Johor Darul Ta’zim FC (JDT) put up a successful home stand after escaping Ceres Negros FC, 3-2, in the first leg of the AFC Cup Asean Zonal semifinals on Wednesday night at the Larkin Stadium in Johor Bahru, Malaysia.
With the victory, the 2015 champion move closer to its second finals appearance in three years.
The Southern Tigers roared early on as Argentine midfielder Gonzalo Cabrera saw a crack in the defense and then fired a low shot from the top of the penalty box to open up the scoring in the 17th minute.
Ceres answered quickly as forward Fernando Rodriguez headed home an OJ Porteria cross.
Bienvenido MaraÒon ran into a wide gap near the arc before sending the ball into the net to give Ceres a 2-1 lead in 24 minutes.
But the Malaysian squad managed to equalize in the added time of the first half with a header from Safiq Rahim.
Hazwan Bakri’s deflected shot found the bottom of the net in the 67th minute to seal the deal for the home team.
Ceres Negros, a Bacolod City-based club had clear chances to level if not for its missed wide-open shots and superb saves by JDT goalkeeper Farizal Marlias.
It heads back home hoping to clinch the zonal finals slot as the second leg of the home-and-away semifina; series unfolds on May 31 at the Panaad Park and Stadium in Bacolod City.
Meanwhile, Global FC, the other Filipino football club still in the hunt for the 2017 AFC Cup will have a hard time to win its make-or-break second leg match against host Home United FC on May 30 at the Jalan Besar Stadium in Singapore.
With a last-minute goal from the Singaporean side’s forward Stipe Plazibat, Global settled for a 2-2 draw at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium in Manila last Tuesday.