Ceres La Salle FC will be looking to continue their historic run in the AFC Cup when they face South China in a do-or-die clash on Tuesday.
Ceres became the first team from the Philippines to reach the round of the 16 of the tournament and have home advantage as they finished atop the Group E standings with 12 points, while South China finished second in Group G.
Ceres will feel they have the upper hand heading into the match as they did not lose any of their six group stage matches, and concluded their group stage campaign with a 5-0 thrashing of Bangladesh’s Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club Ltd.
South China, on the other hand, lost their first three group stage matches against Yangon United, Mohun Bagan and Maziya Sports and Recreation. However, they will be riding a wave of momentum after they bounced back to win their next three games and it was their 3-0 victory against Mohun Bagan on the final matchday that saw the Hong Kong-based club sneak into the knockout stage.
Domestically, Ceres are in fifth place in the United Football League standing, but hammered Agila 10-1 in their most recent fixture last Wednesday.
South China meanwhile suffered a humiliating 2-1 defeat at the hands of a depleted, but spirited, Kwoon Chung Southern side in the Season Playoffs.
Despite South China that defeat, Ceres coach Franklin Muescan will not be underestimating the Hong Kong club, and he admitted that he has yet to spot any of South China’s weaknesses that his side can exploit during their round of 16 clash.
“South China is a big opponent and probably the best team we will be playing against in the history of the club. But we are the home side and we want to use this advantage,” Muescan told reporters. “We know that the Hong Kong Premier League is strong and their local players are good. South China is an established club and playing against them will be a great experience.
“It’s hard to pinpoint any weakness in South China, but from our end, we want to show that we have good team spirit and we believe in the quality and capability of our players.”
While South China will be looking to turn their fortunes around and reach the quarter-finals of the AFC Cup for the second consecutive year, they will have to be wary of Ceres striker Adrian Gallardo as he scored eight goals during the group stage.
South China coach Ricardo Rambo revealed that his side are brimming with confidence heading into the match as they are determined to continue their AFC Cup journey by reaching the last eight.
“We’ve had good results in the past three games, but this game is very important and we want to do well in the AFC Cup,” Rambo said. “The team morale is very high and we’re very eager to get a win to reach the next round, which is important for a club with history like South China.
“We know we will be playing a compact team which is also very hard-working with some quality play. I am very confident we can get the win but to do so we have to play very smart.”
Ceres will have to watch out for South China’s Australian import Ryan Griffiths as he notched up three goals during the group stage.
Ceres and South China face off at the Pana-ad Park and Football Stadium in Bacolod City at 19:20 HKT on FOX Sports 2.