Tired Ceres hoping to draw with Tampines
Philippine side insist they are underdogs in tasty clash with Sundram's Tampines
TAMPINES ROVERS v CERES-LA SALLE
(Tonight, 7.20pm, Singtel TV Ch 116 & StarHub TV Ch 210)
They stepped off the pitch at Bangladesh's Bangabandhu National Stadium last Wednesday wearing broad smiles after securing their first-ever AFC Cup win, but those grins quickly disappeared.
That 2-0 Group E triumph over Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi kick-started a 21-hour travel nightmare that Philippine side Ceres-La Salle insist have hurt their preparations for tonight's fixture against S.League giants Tampines Rovers at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
Ceres have four points from two games and sit in second spot, only two adrift of group leaders Tampines, but the visitors believe they are real underdogs when they step out onto the turf this evening.
"That trip back from Dhaka (starting on Thursday) took us - door to door - maybe 21 hours, then after one day's rest, we had a training session (on Friday in Bacolod) at 6am, because pitches aren't always easily available in the Philippines," Ceres midfielder Stephan Schrock said yesterday.
"Then on Saturday, we flew to Singapore at 6am - that means getting to the airport at 4am - we just haven't had proper sleep for a while.
Schrock, who has turned out in the German Bundesliga for Eintracht Frankfurt, believes that the hosts hold the upper hand.
"If we can take home a point, it would be a good result for the whole of the Philippines, of course better if we can get all three," said the 29-year-old.
"With four points after two games, we're in a very good position. Football in the Philippines is still progressing and we're clearly the underdogs in the group. We're still very excited and very proud to be involved in this campaign."
Singapore have won the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup four times, while the Philippines have qualified for the semi-finals of the last three editions but have never won the tournament since its inception in 1996.
Tampines coach V Sundramoorthy is taking nothing for granted, as his side look for their third consecutive group win - after a 4-0 victory over Dhanmondi, they edged Selangor 1-0 last Tuesday - that will take them to within touching distance of qualifying for the quarter-finals.
"We will put out the strongest team available and try to win the game," said the former Singapore international, who has a squad free of serious injuries and suspensions.
Said Singapore international Ismadi Muhtar: "The Tampines project is a long-term project. (Doing well in) the AFC Cup is the next step for us, like Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) did for Malaysia."
Led by Singapore international Hariss Harun, JDT became the first Malaysian side to win the AFC Cup - the second tier to the AFC Champions League that is contested by the best clubs in Asia - when they beat Tajikistan outfit Istiklol 1-0 in the final last October.
No Singapore side have won the AFC Cup, with Geylang International and Home United going furthest, both losing in the 2004 semi-finals.
S.League sides have struggled in the AFC Cup in recent years, with Warriors FC and Balestier Khalsa finishing last in their respective groups last year.
Balestier are also involved in the tournament this year. Marko Kraljevic's team are top of Group F standings with four points from two games.
Said Ceres coach Frank Muescan: "We've got a lot of respect for our opponents, considering they are the top team in the group. I think (that with the fatigue factor), this will be our toughest match in the group."
- Dhanmondi v Selangor