A battling performance from Ceres-Negros wasn’t enough to overcome a star-studded Tianjin Quianjian side last Tuesday as the Busmen fell, 0-2, in their AFC Champions League playoff at Tianjin Olympic Stadium.
French striker Anthony Modeste scored a goal in each half as Tianjin clinched a spot in the group stage, while relegating the Philippines Football League champions to the AFC Cup.
Arriving just 12 hours before kickoff in the city just outside the capital Beijing due to visa issues, the Busmen showed no fear against the Chinese powerhouse and even had the match’s first big chance courtesy of Stephan Schrock.
Released by a fine ball from Mike Ott, Schrock’s close-range effort was saved by Chinese keeper Zhang Lou in the 13th minute as the Busmen coped well with the freezing conditions.
The Busmen looked the more threatening side in the early stages minutes, before the strong and powerful Modeste broke the deadlock with a header off a corner kick in the 19th minute.
Ott also had a great chance five minutes after the restart when Zhang missed a clearance, before the ball fell to the diminutive Ceres winger, who couldn’t get power on the effort.
Seven minutes later, Modeste made it 2-0, finishing clinically past Toni Doblas after picking up a through ball from Alexandre Pato.
The second goal hardly put a dent on the Busmen’s confidence as they pressed on in search for a goal. Battling Belgian star Axel Witsel at midfield, Schrock hardly looked out of place with his pace and quality standing out in a match controlled by Tianjin.
Ceres had another big chance in the 89th minute when Schrock’s cross found the back post, but an unmarked Bienvenido Maranon couldn’t get contact on the ball with the goal at his mercy.
Despite the loss, the Busmen’s run that included wins over Shan United of Myanmar and Australia’s Brisbane Roar proved historic as they are still the first Filipino side to come this close of reaching the group stage.
Ceres now shifts its attention to the AFC Cup, where the Busmen, who are also reigning Asean zone champions, will face the winner of the playoff between Lao Toyotaand Boeung Ket Angkor of Cambodia in the group stage starting Feb. 13 in Bacolod City.