Home pay price for poor start in AFC Cup Asean final
Ceres scupper Protectors' dream of becoming first AFC Cup Asean champions with two first-half goals
|CERES NEGROS||HOME UNITED|
|(OJ Porteria 2, Manny Ott 42)|
The stage was set for Home United to mark a milestone for Singapore football on the Republic's 52nd birthday.
Having won the first leg of their AFC Cup Asean zone final 2-1 at the Jalan Besar Stadium last Wednesday, the Protectors entered last night's second leg against Philippine side Ceres Negros in the driver's seat.
A draw in Bacolod City would have seen Home crowned the first Asean champions under the revamped AFC Cup format.
Ceres, however, had other ideas, and ran away 2-0 winners (3-2 on aggregate) on the night.
They ripped the script up within two minutes, when winger OJ Porteria finished at the far post to erase Home's advantage in the tie.
Three minutes before half-time, midfielder Manny Ott plunged the knife deeper with an inch-perfect free-kick to seal the triumph.
Ceres will now progress to the two-legged AFC Cup's inter-zonal play-off against Tajikistan's Istiklol on Aug 22 and Sept 12.
Should they get past Istiklol, Ceres will have one more tie to negotiate before they get to the main final of the AFC Cup, which is scheduled for Nov 4.
Home coach Aidil Sharin, however, can only look on in envy.
He said: "We knew they would come at us because they wanted an early goal, and it was that early goal that won them the game.
"Overall (though) I would say our AFC Cup campaign was a positive one, because nobody thought we could reach the final.
"We set up a team this year with so many new players, and to get the team to click in a few months and reach an AFC Cup final is not easy.
"The players gave everything, all their commitment and desire. So, I don't see this as a setback."
Home were sorely missing central defender Irfan Fandi.
Instead of travelling to the Philippines, the 19-year-old national player's National Service status meant he was instead linked up with the Under-22 SEA Games squad for a friendly match in Perth.
That was why fellow SEA Games players Adam Swandi, who has completed his NS, and Amiruldin Asraf, who has not enlisted yet, featured for the Protectors last night.
How the Protectors could have used Irfan's dominating presence in the first half.
Iain Ramsay's cross from the left wing evaded Afiq Yunos - an unused substitute in the first leg - and Porteria stole in at the backpost to hand his side a perfect start.
Then in the 12th minute, Afiq's partner in central defence, Abdil Qaiyyim, inexplicably handled a Ramsay cross to concede a penalty.
Home, however, were let off when Ceres' Spanish striker Fernando Rodriguez blazed his spot-kick over the crossbar.
Home had chances of their own in the frenetic first period.
In the 26th minute, Izzdin Shafiq's deep free-kick evaded everyone in the box, took a bounce and looped over Ceres goalkeeper Roland Mueller, but bounced off the crossbar.
Two minutes later, a jinking run by Faris Ramli set up Home hitman Stipe Plazibat, but the Croat - who has eight AFC Cup goals this season - saw his point-blank effort saved by Mueller.
The misses proved costly as former 1860 Munich and Ingolstadt man Ott curled home a free-kick into the top corner past a hapless Hassan, to put his side firmly in control.
Home coach Aidil made an aggressive change at half-time, throwing on centre forward Marijan Suto in place of defender Afiq, to partner Plazibat.
But it was to no avail.