The Philippines’ Ceres-Negros FC sent former AFC Cup winners Johor Dar’ul Tazim packing as it advanced to the ASEAN Zonal Finals of the tournament, following a dramatic win in the second leg of the semifinals.


Fernando Rodriguez secured the slot for the Visayas club with a penalty shot straight at the center in the 94th minute following a foul from Aidil Zafwan, that ended the home game at 2-1 in the final whistle.


Ceres’ victory in the second leg ensured a 4-4 score on aggregate, which saw the Philippine club move to the finals by virtue of away goals. The controversial win saw a Philippine club reach the AFC Cup Finals for the first time in history, and Ceres is more determined to ensure that their campaign will not end in heartbreak when they go to the finals in August.


The Visayas powerhouse controlled the match from the first few minutes. A free kick from Kevin Ingreso was deftly touched by Kota Kawase straight into the goal, placing Ceres into the lead by the 25th minute. The Busmen amped up the ante and continued their relentless attack on the stunned Southern Tigers. Spanish national Rodriguez’ attempt to increase the lead was quickly saved by Farizal Marlias while OJ Porteria’s shot was just a bit too wide from the goal post. Not to be outdone, JDT went on the offensive and replaced midfielders Afiq Fazail and Mahali Jasuli with forwards Safawi Rasid and Ahmad Hazwan Bakri, as the Tigers looked for the equalizer that would give them an advantage in aggregate.


JDT Coach Benjamin Mora’s decision was soon rewarded as Gabriel Guerra’s powerful shot at the bottom corner of the goal from Gonzalo Cabrera’s made the match tied 1-1, with 25 minutes remaining. Ceres struggled to take control of the game after that crushing goal, and Porteria missed another chance to bring Ceres to the lead by shotting high off the bar.


All was well for the Malaysian club and as the minutes continued to die down, it seemed that their finals slot was more than assured with everyone just waiting for the final whistle. But a sudden dramatic turn of events gave the Busmen another sliver of hope as Chinese referee Fu Ming awarded a penalty in favor of Ceres. The referee called a foul on Aidil Zafuan, who he said ran and pulled down Manuel Herrera from the ensuing corner. Rodriguez calmly took the penalty shot and scored for Ceres, which brought the team back to the advantage.


Many believed it was a soft call that did not deem a penalty kick and goalkeeper Farizal was one who thought so. Farizal could not keep his frustration at bay and made sure the referee knew what he was thinking as he charged at Ming, which earned him a red card. Instead of getting off the pitch, the Malaysian goalkeeper continued to berate the referee and other officials, who tried to pacify him. He was eventually sent off and could face a lengthy suspension from the Asian Football Confederation following his actions in the game.


The late goal saw Ceres win with the advantage in a 4-4 aggregate, and the club will therefore face Singaporean club Home United FC in the ASEAN Zonal Finals in August.


Risto Vidakovic, head coach for Ceres told that he was satisfied with the way the players performed in the first half.

“We played a very good first half,” said Vidakovic. “In the second half we didn’t play so well. But after 180 minutes I think we deserve it, to qualify in the finals.”


Meanwhile, JDT coach Benjamin Mora expressed his disappointment over the results and refused to comment on the penalty that cost them the tournament.

“This kind of games, when you lose for any reason, it hurts a lot cause we’re almost there,” said Mora.


On the penalty awarded to Ceres, Mora only had this to say, “It was a penalty, because the referee thinks it was a penalty. That’s the only thing I think.”


The video clip showed the reason Farizal was sent off with a red card.