Ceres La Salle FC clinched the first ever Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup knockout stage berth by a Filipino club after holding Selangor FA to a goalless draw in Selayang Stadium in Malaysia on Tuesday.
After five games in the competition, Ceres bagged one of the two available tickets in their group to qualify for the round-of-16 of the second tier continental club football championship.
The squad from Bacolod City, which plays in the top tier of the domestic United Football League (UFL), is currently on top of Group E with nine points on two wins and three draws.
During the match, Ceres quickly tested the defensive stance of their foes with several attempts on goal but their soft outbursts were unable to go through Selangor’s backline.
On the other hand, Selangor threatened the defense of Ceres with a shot coming from Mauro Olivi off a solo effort but his shot was punched away by goalkeeper Louie Michael Casas.
Despite the fierce exchange of blows of the opposing clubs in the first half, both teams were held into a silent 0-0 deadlock at the midgame break.
As play resumed, a more aggressive Ceres came back to the pitch as Adrian Gallardo Valdes tested his luck on the goal of the Malaysians but his shot failed to hit its mark.
Former Azkals defender Jason Sabio almost sank the game-winning goal off a header from a corner kick by Manny Ott a few moments after but his ball went over the crossbar.
Consequently, in the first meeting of the two clubs, Ceres also managed to pull Selangor to a 2-2 draw at the Panaad Park and Stadium in Bacolod last February 23.
With just one game remaining in their slate, the Busmen are a point clear of close contenders Selangor, who are now at the second spot with eight points off two wins, two draws and a loss.
The team is the only undefeated contingent with third seed Tampines Rovers FC of Singapore having a record of two wins, a draw and two defeats while bottom-dwelling Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club of Bangladesh holding a 1-4 win-loss card.
Ceres La Salle will be playing their last game in the preliminary round of this year’s AFC Cup on May 10 against Sheikh Jamal at their home stadium in Bacolod.
Meanwhile, Kaya FC, the other Philippine contingent in the contest, is still in the running to book a trip to the knockout phase. They are at the second spot of Group F with three wins and two losses.
In their last outing, Kaya was handed its first defeat at home at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium in Manila, 1-0, by Hong Kong side Kitchee SC.
Kaya will also dive into their final match in the continental cup on May 10 as they face New Radiant SC at the National Football Stadium in Male, Maldives.
JAELLE NEVIN REYES