AFC Cup: Ceres, Kaya crash Round-of-16 party in style
BACOLOD CITY, Philippines - Filipino clubs Ceres La Salle and Kaya FC both advanced to the AFC Cup round of 16 on Tuesday, May 10 as Ceres defeated Lt. Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club 5-0 at Panaad Stadium in Bacolod City, while Kaya FC held New Radiant to a scoreless draw at Malé, Maldives. Here are "The Passionate Fan" Bob Guerrero's reactions to the group stage finales.
Ceres had an almost perfect evening against a pretty decent Sheikh Jamal side.
Okay, Ceres won 5-0. But a closer inspection of the match shows that it wasn't quite as one-sided as the score suggests. The halftime stats were fairly even despite the fact that Ceres lead 2-0. The Bangladeshi side had three excellent attackers in Landing Darboe, Emeka Onuoha, and Wesson Anselme who looked dangerous from whistle to whistle.
Problem is, Sheikh Jamal were terribly disorganized on defense. The back 4 has to be roughly in one line most of the time. If even one player is out of line it can wreak havoc if an offensive player is played onside and can storm forward for a chance.
Adrian Gallardo told me after the match that in the first meeting between the sides, a few months back in Dhaka, they noticed that SJDC were playing very high on defense. The coaches decided to play long ball tactics to beat the high line, and it worked, with 4 of the 5 goals coming off the prehistoric old-school English strategy. (The best strike, though, was Bienve Maranon's forceful bomb from outside the box.)
UP just won the UAAP title employing a similar high line, but they were far more disciplined and had the same personnel for almost every game; Lou Rafanan at left back, Patxi Santos in the middle with Ian Clarino, and Feb Baya at the right flank. Goalie Ace Villanueva was also the netminder for all but two games.
In contrast, Sheikh Jamal changed one of their centerbacks from their last game, an upset of Tampines, and also made a switch in goal. The results were disastrous.
I almost think that if the UP back 4 and goalie played in that match for the Bangladeshi side, that the result would not have been as heavy.
Gallardo had a sparkling evening with 3 goals and an assist, but the coaching staff deserves much of the credit too. Talent plus the right tactics are a winning formula.
SJDC were behind the eight ball from the beginning, but Bangladeshi football has something to teach us.
We flew out of Manila for Bacolod on Monday afternoon and were surprised to see the Sheikh Jamal team taking the same flight. I would have thought they would have preferred to come two days early instead of one.
I chatted with their assistant manager, Faraz Hussien. According to him the team flew out of Dhaka on Sunday night and endured a five-hour layover in Kuala Lumpur. Then a 3-hour hop to Manila followed by another four-hour layover in Manila before jetting off to Bacolod. Our flight was delayed by about 45 minutes so when they arrived at the Silay airport there was no time to go to the hotel. They went straight to Pana-ad for their only training session before the game.
Their coach said in the pregame and postgame interviews that the team took 24 hours to make the trip. It doesn't help that the Bangladeshi Premier League is off season, so the side was likely nowhere near peak fitness. To make things worse, their star Danish-Bangladeshi midfielder Jamal Buyan couldn't join because of a death in the family.
Ceres, thanks to their topping the group, avoid a similar journey in their next game in the round-of-16 knockout phase. Had they stumbled they would have needed to travel to the Northeast of India to face Mohun Bagan. Instead they get to enjoy home cooking in Panaad against either Yangon United of Myanmar, South China of Hong Kong, or Maziya of the Maldives on May 24.
And yet in talking to Hussein I discovered just how big football in the South Asian nation is. Cricket is the country's favorite sport but football is a strong number two. He says the top tier has 12 teams, the second tier 16, the third tier 24, and the fourth level over 62 clubs.
In comparison our UFL has only one tier of 12 squads, then the recreational Weekend Futbol League sort of sits below it, alongside university leagues like the UAAP and NCAA.
If we want our national team to have a steady supply of good players, we need a viable, sustainable pyramid underneath, like what Bangladesh has. Right now our structural deficiencies are masked by the influx of outstanding foreign-trained Pinoys. Hopefully the planned national league can help build our football competition infrastructure and spur all leagues underneath.
Kaya grinded out yet another attritional result.
Joel Villarino's boys have fashioned out yet another low-scoring result. It appears that the absence of Alfred Osei in the center of the pitch didn't affect the team too much.
Amazing fact: the goal Kaya allowed in the 1-0 loss to Kitchee two weeks ago was the only goal they allowed in open play in the entire group stage, a total of 540 minutes. The only other goal they conceded was a disputed penalty, also against Kitchee in Hong Kong on the first match day. That is an astonishing achievement that centerbacks Aky Borromeo and Masanari Omura can take much pride in.
Borromeo is a candidate for comeback player of the year. He was not selected by Thomas Dooley for the Azkals in 2014 and was used sparingly by Kaya in 2015. This season he has been a starter, and can take much credit for their unyielding defense against Asian opposition.
But coming up on May 25 is a road match in the knockout stage against Malaysian super club JDT. The defense wil be tested like never before. No doubt they must also find a way to disturb the JDT nets as well.
The fruits of these victories may yet come in November.
With Kaya and Ceres going deep in this AFC Cup, suddenly a whole passel of current and potential Azkals has been given priceless experience in the Asian arena. Scores of players have now learned much, have ratcheted up their self-belief, and have a better appreciation of what it takes to win internationally.
This can only be good news for Thomas Dooley, who is beginning preparations for the Suzuki Cup in November. These twin triumphs can only improve the pool oif players he will be selecting from.
Dooley has a new contract and he could lead the team in some friendlies coming up. There was a planned friendly against Syria in June by that appears to be up in the air. Another friendly against La Liga side Espanyol is being proposed for July. More matches are in the pipeline in the lead up to the ASEAN championship.
But right now it's time to celebrate. Ceres and Kaya have taken a huge step forward. Let's see if the next step towards international glory can be taken on May 24 and 25. – Rappler.com
Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH.