Football: Ceres and Etheridge look to slay giants

MANILA, Philippine (UPDATED) – 

Brisbane Roar vs Ceres Negros
AFC Champions League qualifier
5:00 pm Philippine time
Tuesday, January 23
QSAC Stadium, Brisbane Australia

 

Cardiff City vs Manchester City
English FA Cup 4th round
11:55 pm Philippine time
Sunday, January 28
Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff, Wales

A Pinoy club and a Pinoy netminder face long odds in their matches this coming week. Ceres Negros tackles Aussie A-League outfit Brisbane Roar while Neil Etheridge battles Man City. Let's take a look at these two daunting assignments.

By virtue of their title in the inaugural Philippines Football League, Ceres not only got a guaranteed slot in the AFC Cup, but also received a chance at the AFC Champions League, the very highest level of Asian club football. Last week the Busmen traveled to Myanmar and defeated Shan United, 1-1 after extra time and 4-3 in a shootout. Stephan Schrock with the goal in regulation.

That win earned a second round date with the Roar. The winner of this match then clashes with Chinese squad Tianjin Quanjian on January 30 for a group stage slot in the Champions League, where the best clubs from Asian powerhouses like Japan, Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Australia square off.

Should Ceres lose against the Aussies or stumble versus Tianjian, they take solace in the fact that an AFC Cup slot will be reserved for them.

Last year, Filipino side Global Cebu represented the country at this stage, also against the Roar. Their trip down under was not a pleasant one, as the home team prevailed 6-0. Will this game be any different?

“We know we are playing a stronger team than us,” admits Ceres coach Risto Vidakovic. “But this is a big motivation.”

Fitness will be an issue. Ceres had exactly 4 training sessions before the game against Shan. They had not played since winning the PFL title against Global on December 16. After a recovery session on Wednesday, they trained on Friday and flew out on Saturday.

The Roar have played 17 matches already in the A-League. Their last contest was a 3-2 win against the Perth Glory on Thursday. Brisbane is 7th in the table.

Vidakovic says matching the fitness of his opponents is “impossible,” but that the team will be playing with no pressure.

“It's a good game to check where we are,” adds the La Liga veteran.

Ceres has made some additions to their already-glittering squad. Amani Aguinaldo has come over from Global but he is still rehabbing a knee and won't make the trip. Toni Doblas, a 37-year-old Spaniard, is the new first choice goalie after the departure of Roland Muller.

Doblas played much of his career in Betis in La Liga, leading that team to a Copa Del Rey title. Betis fan Carli De Murga remembers his heroics in the Copa Del Rey in 2005, and calls Doblas “one of my favorite players.” Now they are teammates. Doblas could be key in keeping Ceres in the game in Brisbane.

Sean Kane is in Bacolod after transferring from mid-table JPV Marikina. The defender also starred for the Azkals last year. Another ex-JPV player now with Ceres is Takumi Uesato, a gifted Japanese center forward.

Manny Ott's younger brother Mike is also on Ceres' roster for this season.

Martin Steuble is still injured but other than that, the team is healthy.

There is no TV coverage of the game but it is hoped that a stream will pop up in cyberspace, allowing Ceres fans to follow the game.

Schrock, the Ceres talisman, is unfazed by the mountain his team must climb.

“We are the underdog, but I always go into a game with winning as the only thing on my mind. The only reason they are stronger, maybe, is their preparation. Tactically we are up there.”

“This will be a historic game,” adds the Bundesliga veteran. “We have a small chance but we will take it.”

Etheridge against the Sky Blues.

Neil Etheridge's task is even greater on the following Sunday night: try to subdue red-hot Manchester City, currently England's best team, who are atop the Premier League, 12 points clear of Manchester United as of the writing of this article.

The Bluebirds and the Sky Blues face off in the FA Cup, a single knockout competition that runs concurrently with the league season. Both professional and amateur teams play in the FA Cup, with the stronger teams typically given byes until the later rounds. In the third round, Cardiff City needed a replay against stubborn Mansfield, prevailing 4-1 last week.

In the FA Cup's earlier rounds, a game that ends in a draw does not go to extra time or penalties, but is instead replayed at a later date. This is still the case in the 4th round, so Cardiff and Man City could face off again, but in Manchester, if the teams finish level next weekend.

Cardiff plays in the second-tier Championship, and is lying in third place. At the end of the season, the top two clubs are automatically promoted to the Premier League while the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th placers play a two-round single elimination playoff tournament for the last promotion spot to the big league. It is therefore imperative that Cardiff catches second-place Derby County, who is 3 points ahead with 53. Wolverhamption Wanderers, on top with 63, seem destined for the big show next season.

Etheridge understands that the race for promotion is of paramount concern with the Welsh capital. The Pinoy has played in goal for all but one of Cardiff's league games this season. While he was with Fulham when it played in the Premiership previously, he never saw action in any EPL games.

“The main thing is to enjoy the game (against Man City) and go for the win. We have a home field advantage. At the end of the day what happens, happens. The priority is to win the league and gain promotion.”

Etheridge says playing Man City is a “massive step up,” where the “concentration levels are much higher.” He also admits it is going to be his toughest opponent yet.

Three years ago, when Etheridge was with Walsall, he played against another English powerhouse, Chelsea, in the League Cup, another single-knockout competition. Chelsea prevailed 4-1 that day. This contest against the Premiership leaders promises to be even tougher, as he will likely have to parry shots from Man City's all-time scorer, Sergio Aguero, who has quality behind him, like Belgian midfield maestro Kevin De Bruyne.

“Man City are arguably the best club in Europe and maybe even the world. I can only do my best,” says Neil. "This season has been fantastic."

The home team does have some history on their side. In the last meeting between the clubs, Cardiff, then still in the Premier League, defeated Manchester City 3-2 in the 2013-14 season.

Etheridge says he has the second-best number of clean sheets in the Championship and that Cardiff has the second-least concessions among all the teams in the second tier. That defensive record will be tested against Pep Guardiola's rampant Man City side.

But Filipino teams and players know all about being underdogs, and will face the challenge head-on.

NOTE: BeIn Sports airs the English FA Cup on Philippine cable TV. As of press time, their TV guide only gives schedules until Friday, January 26. Please visit http://www.beinsports.com/ph/tv-guide for information on a possible telecast.

– Rappler.com