FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan believes the AFC Cup 2019 ASEAN Zone semi-final between Hanoi FC and Ceres-Negros could be decided by two talented playmakers.
One is coming to an end of an illustrious career that has seen him feature in the Bundesliga and Europa League for teams such as Hoffenheim and Eintracht Frankfurt, and is now looking to sign off on a high in his mother’s country of birth which he has since embraced with open arms.
The other is only at the beginning of a journey that is promising to be something special, already regarded as Southeast Asia’s brightest talent at only the age of 22 with Europe destined to be the next stage.
Well, that and the fact that the former prefers his right foot to fire off passes with laser-like precision, while the latter opts to carve apart opposition defences with his wand of a left foot.
AFC Cup 2019: Ceres Negros 1-0 Hanoi FC (Bienvenido Maranon 57′)
Now for the similarities.
Ceres-Negros’ Stephan Schrock and Hanoi FC’s Nguyen Quang Hai are both supremely gifted playmakers.
They have proven on countless occasions in the past that they can change – and win a game – with one single moment of brilliance.
And, at the Hang Day Stadium on Tuesday, both will be pivotal in deciding if it is Ceres or Hanoi that progress in AFC Cup 2019.
In that must be the most eagerly-anticipated clash of the ASEAN Zone so far this season, both sides find themselves level after a 1-1 draw in last Tuesday’s first leg with Hanoi holding home advantage for the return encounter.
And, in what could truly prove to be a tale of two playmakers, it is arguably the old master that has enjoyed the better form thus far over the young prodigy.
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32-year-old Schrock, who has lit up ASEAN football since arriving in 2016, has maintained his lofty standards in 2019, continuing to star as Ceres’ creator-in-chief as they embarked on a five-game winning run in the group stage even if he is yet to hit the back of the net.
His assist for Bienvenido Maranon’s opener last Tuesday encapsulated what he is all about in a nutshell; driving down the right with intent, holding up play when there was no support before picking out an inch-perfect cross for his Spanish team-mate to nod home.
On the other hand, Quang Hai – who had amazing 2018 that culminated in being named the Most Valuable Player in Vietnam’s triumphant AFF Suzuki Cup campaign – just has not hit the same heights.
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He has weighed in with his fair share of assists in the AFC Cup but only has two goals to his name in V.League 1, although that isn’t to say this perceived slump in form has been solely his fault.
Exhaustion has to be a factor considering his club commitments since the start of 2018 have also combined with international appearances at the AFC U-23 Championship, Asian Games, Suzuki Cup and AFC Asian Cup 2019.
Furthermore, at times for Hanoi, he is deployed as an orthodox central midfielder with Nguyen Van Quyet and Pape Omar Faye occupying the more-advanced attacking berths behind Ganiyu Oseni, which understandably lowers his output in the goals and assists columns.
Nonetheless, for one reason or another, the 22-year-old has had less of an impact for club than country since his emergence as one of Asia’s hottest talents at the start of last year.
It was an intriguing round of matches in the @AFCCup ASEAN Zone semi-final first legs… but who shone the brightest from 🇻🇳 Hanoi FC, @BinhDuongFC, 🇮🇩 @PSM_Makassar & 🇵🇭 @CeresNegrosFC?@gabetan13 picks the TOP 4⃣‼️ #AFCCup2019https://t.co/jcGDm5aGTW
— FOX Sports Asia (@FOXSportsAsia) June 20, 2019
Like Ceres, Hanoi are a club that have dominated their domestic competition previously and success in the AFC Cup is the next logical step forward.
If they are to do that in 2019, they can ill afford for Quang Hai to continue playing a bit-part role and instead must give him free rein to influence proceedings.
For, if they don’t, there is every likelihood that Ceres’ very own wizard will relish the challenge, rise to the occasion, and fire the Philippines Football League giants to a third AFC Cup ASEAN Zone final in as many years.