FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan takes a closer look at Tuesday’s enticing AFC Cup 2019 duel between ASEAN giants Ceres-Negros and Hanoi FC.
It is the match-up that would have been worthy of the decider but, unfortunately, it is in the ASEAN Zone semi-finals of AFC Cup 2019 that will see Ceres-Negros and Hanoi FC lock horns.
Philippines’ Ceres are no strangers going far in the tournament having been crowned the inaugural ASEAN Zone champions in 2017, before reaching the zonal final once again last season before losing to Home United.
They have been in dominant form once again this year and claimed five consecutive wins to seal a top-spot finish in Group G with a game to spare, before suffering their first defeat of the campaign to Becamex Binh Duong with their progress already secured.
Were Hanoi FC deserving Group F winners in AFC Cup 2019?
While V.League 1 champions Hanoi were also widely regarded as genuine contenders, they did have to overcome a couple of hiccups along the way before finishing first in Group F.
At the halfway mark of the group stage, the Vietnamese looked in real jeopardy as a draw with Tampines Rovers followed by a shock loss to Yangon United left them with four points from three matches.
However, they regained their footing and won their final three games to advance to the zonal semi-finals.
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The first leg of this highly-anticipated clash takes place at the Panaad Park and Stadium on Tuesday, with both sides boasting plenty of firepower that should see them have confidence in their abilities to get the win.
With nine goals to their names, Ceres’ Bienvenido Maranon and Hanoi’s Ganiyu Oseni are the joint top-scorers throughout the entire competition.
Pulling the strings behind Maranon is former Hoffenheim and Eintracht Frankfurt man Stephan Schrock, while OJ Porteria and Mike Ott provide plenty of thrust down the flanks.
Furthermore, the arrival of Philippines international Alvaro Silva has strengthened an already formidable Ceres defence that also boasts Roland Muller in goal.
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Meanwhile, apart from Oseni, Hanoi also have plenty of stellar names that have taken turns to shine, including the rising star of Vietnamese football Nguyen Quang Hai, Senegalese attacker Pape Omar Faye and midfield general Pham Duc Huy.
With so much quality set to take to the field on Tuesday evening, it is no wonder that many have lamented the fact that this is not the tie that will decide who is crowned champions of the ASEAN Zone.
But whoever overcomes what will undoubtedly be their toughest test yet in AFC Cup 2019 and progresses to the zonal final can have even more reason to believe they can go all the way.