Featured, Football

Preview: AFC Cup – Ceres La Salle vs Selangor FA

Two clubs with varying depth of histories will be facing each other at the Panaad Stadium on Tuesday, ahead of what’s expected to be a competitive AFC Cup campaign.

Selangor are arguably the biggest club in Malaysian football history – despite JDT’s meteroic rise in recent years. They’ve had their conundrums too, but the tide appears to be shifting in their favour, especially after they clinched a historic 33rd Malaysia Cup title last year.

But the hosts on Tuesday are a side that’s relatively new. Philippines’ Ceres La Salle was only founded in 2012, though they’ve scaled impeccable heights within a short space of time. Last year, the Bacolod-based side clinched the United Football League title, finishing eight points ahead of their closest rivals, Global FC. The triumph earned them a slot in the AFC Cup this year, and Selangor will be their inaugural opponents, tomorrow.


Photo Credit: Interaksyon.com
Photo Credit: Interaksyon.com

Ceres may be the underdogs heading into this one, but it’s purely based on reputation. Results-wise, they’ve been on a complete roll. The Phillipines outfit travelled to Singapore for a couple of pre-season games in January, where they defeated Balestier Khalsa 3-1 before narrowly losing 2-1 to Albirex Niigata.

Soon after that, they returned to the Philippines to kick-start their UFL Cup campaign and they’ve won all three of their matches thus far. The first one was a 2-1 win over rivals Loyola before they went on to claim a whopping 15-0 victory over Nomads in their second game. Last week, they thrashed Pasargad 9-0 to further consolidate their position as heavyweights within the Phillipines football scene.

But even Ceres’ head coach Ali Go admits that the daunting prospect of facing Selangor is one that’s extremely tricky. “They have new coach and new system. They’re now on a possession-based play. They have added new players and dropped several as well,” Ali Go was quoted as saying by Interaksyon.com.

“We are continuously having our trainings every day in order to make sure that we have the cohesion. This is very important. We can’t afford to make mistake against Selangor or else they will punish us,” he added.


Photo Credit: Asiana.my
Photo Credit: Asiana.my

Selangor secured their return to the AFC Cup in a rather unceremonious way, after Pahang were docked points, allowing Selangor to jump above them into second spot on the Malaysia Super League table. But as far as Zainal Abidin Hassan is concerned, it’s a key opportunity for them to revive their reputation of being a major team within the country.

They’ve had a pretty decent start to the season as well, despite undergoing a major squad revamp during the off-season. The Red Giants opened their Malaysia Super League campaign with a 1-1 against Johor DT in the Charity Shield match, before going on to beat Perak 1-0 in their next game. They’ve also secured a spot in the third round of the FA Cup, courtesy of a routine 2-0 victory over AirAsia FC last weekend.

That being said, they’ve got injury concerns at the moment. Patrick Ronaldinho has travelled with the squad, though he is rumoured to be carrying a minor injury from their FA Cup tie against AirAsia. Hazwan Bakri and Fitri Shazwan will both miss the tie as they continue to nurse their injuries.

On the bright side, Nazmi Faiz is set to return after recovering from the injury he picked up against JDT. His return means that he’s likely to partner Hafiz Kamal in the middle of the park – the midfield combo that was relatively impressive in their Charity Shield draw against JDT.

                                                  THE VERDICT

Photo Credit: Icko de Guzman / football.com.ph
Photo Credit: Icko de Guzman / football.com.ph

While Selangor probably look intimidating on paper, Ceres have continuously battled against the odds and proved their doubters wrong in recent years. More importantly, they’ll be backed by their loud home fans on Tuesday, which should foster a terrific atmosphere. Selangor will have to keep an eye on Martin Steuble, who has been incredible for Ceres since joining them from Sporting Kansas in the MLS. He bagged a hat-rick in their 15-0 win over Nomads earlier this month, and will be undoubtedly be raring to have a go at Shahrom Kalam’s defence. Adrian Gallardo is another name to keep an eye on as he bagged four goals during their 9-0 win over Pasargad. Selangor could be in for a real shock this week.

Other posts by