THE SLEEPING giant from the South just moved within a victory from claiming Philippine club football’s biggest prize.
Bacolod side Ceres eliminated another United Football League (UFL) powerhouse in Kaya with a clinical 3-1 win last night to reach the finals of the PFF Smart Club Championship at Rizal Memorial Stadium.
Goals from Jason Panhay, Byeong Yoon-jun and Choi Gun-hee secured the victory for Ceres, which came into the tournament largely unnoticed until it brought down two former UFL champions in Stallion and Global.
Ceres will dispute the title against the winner of the other semifinal match between Green Archers Globe and Pasargad being played at press time.
National team player Chris Greatwich pulled a goal back for Kaya early in the second half after brilliant work from OJ Porteria.
But just like in its wins against the giants of the UFL, Ceres refused to buckle before sneaking an insurance goal to put the outcome beyond doubt.
“We didn’t expect to be here but the players worked hard and we’re just happy they are getting the reward [of playing in the finals],” said Leorey Yanson, who owns the team with brother Ricky.
“We just wanted to put on a good showing. We want to prove that provincial teams can also compete at a high level,” added Yanson.
Unlike in its first two matches, Ceres had more of the ball in the opening exchanges.
But it wasn’t until a clever piece of play from former Kaya player Joshua Beloya that the team finally got its first clear-cut chance that was duly converted by Panhay in the 25th minute.
Beloya found Panhay running on the left and his lofted pass found the winger, who superbly chipped the ball past Saba Garmaroudi from a tight angle.
Byeong doubled the lead with a bullet of a shot from close range after pouncing on a headed pass from defender Danny Claxton four minutes before half time.
Kaya cut the deficit on Greatwich’s close-range strike six minutes into the second half, after Porteria beat two defenders near the end line.
The Kaya fightback, however, fizzled out with Byeong earning a penalty after a foul from Masa Omura inside the box. Choi put the outcome beyond doubt with a well-taken spot kick into the top corner nine minutes from time.