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Ceres-Negros makes first appearance in AFC Champions League qualifiers

MANILA, Philippines – Ceres-Negros FC will face Burmese squad Shan United in the first preliminary round of the 2018 AFC Champions League qualifying play-offs on Tuesday, January 16, in Yangon, Myanmar.

The inaugural Philippines Football League champions will debut in the the continental competition's qualifying round as they face the 2017 Myanmar National League champions.

Despite losing Roland Müller and Iain Ramsay, the core of Ceres-Negros – including Stephan Schröck, Bienvenido Marañon and Manny Ott – will still banner the team in the 2018 season. 

New signings Azkals Mike Ott and Sean Patrick Kane, Japanese striker Takumi Uesato and Spanish goalkeeper Toni Doblas will also fortify the Busmen's line-up. Only Amani Aguinaldo, a transferee from Global Cebu, will be sitting out of the competition as he recovers from a knee injury. 

Head coach Risto Vitakovic admitted that Shan United would be at an advantage as Ceres-Negros is still in their preseason and the club has only met for 3 training sessions prior to the match. 

"For us its a historic moment. Again, it's the first time we'll play in the champions league. We're just in the preseason and we [had] maybe 3 training sessions. We are not prepared but we will try our best. I think its a big motivation for our players to play this game and I think we will give everything tomorrow," said Vitakovic.

The Bacolod-based squad will be ready for "tough game" against the Myanmar club that is known for their tactical defensive skills and disciplined style of play. 

"Like I said they are a very serious team. Defensively very organized and I hope we can get a good result here." 

Only 8 teams from the qualifying play-off round will advance to the group stage of the AFC Champions League. A win by Ceres-Negros against Shan United will see them square off against Brisbane Roar and a victory in Australia will catapult them to face Chinese club Tianjin Quanjian. 

The Busmen will only be able to qualify for the group stage if they defeat all 3 teams in the stepladder. 

Global Cebu FC is the first Filipino club in the elite competition after they beat Tampines Rovers in the first round last year. They met Brisbane Roar in the second round, but the Cebu-based club was eliminated in the playoff game in Australia.

Kickoff is set at 4:00 pm (5:30pm Manila time) and the game can be streamed live at the Pyone Play Facebook page. – Rappler.com