BACOLOD CITY—Southeast Asian zone champion Ceres-Negros tries to pull off the improbable when they host Istiklol of Tajikistan on Tuesday in the second leg of their AFC Cup inter-zone semifinal clash at Panaad Stadium.
Beaten 0-4 in Dushanbe three weeks ago by the Tajik champions, the Busmen would need some sort of miracle to stay in the title hunt in the competition.
The Busmen, who ruled the Asean zone at the expense of Singapore’s Home United, are unbeaten at home in this year’s AFC Cup, but the match will be their biggest test yet not only because of the strength of the opposition, but also because of the deficit they are facing.
Ceres goalkeeper Roland Muller isn’t ruling out a mighty fightback from the Busmen.
“Coming back from 4-0 is not easy but it’s not impossible,” said Muller. “We know what we did right and what we did wrong in the first leg. We’re playing at home so that should be a big boost for us.”
The Busmen yielded twice in each half in Dushanbe as Istiklol capitalized on some poor defending from the Filipino side.
“We were very soft defensively and we conceded easy goals,” said Ceres coach Risto Vidakovic, referring to their performance in the Tajik capital. “But this is football and anything can happen [on Tuesday night].”
Spanish central defender Super Herrera returns from suspension, while Martin Steuble looks fit to start at rightback, giving the back line some stability and experience.
“My players are ready to give everything,” added Vidakovic.