Ceres-Negros’ AFC Cup exit on Tuesday marked the end of Southeast Asia’s representation on the continental stage for another year.
The Philippine outfit, deserving champions of the ASEAN zone, were brave but just found themselves out of their depth against an FC Istiklol side with plenty of pedigree at this level.
It's been a great AFC Cup run. We are the 2017 AFC Cup Zonal Champions and no one can take that away from us. Very proud of the team! ❤️⚽️
— OJ Porteria (@MrPorteria) September 12, 2017
Despite their 5-1 aggregate loss in the inter-zone semi-finals, there were still plenty of positives for Ceres – and Philippine football on a whole – to take.
But can the same be said for the rest of the region?
Representatives: Boeung Ket Angkor (eliminated in group stage), Phnom Penh Crown (eliminated in qualifying playoff)
Phnom Penh Crown fell at the first hurdle after being beaten 7-3 on aggregate by Home United in the playoffs, leaving Boeung Ket Angkor to fly the flag for Cambodia.
They were never ever really going to negotiate their way out of a tough group but deserve credit for avoiding a bottom finish, with a 1-0 home win over Magwe the highlight of their campaign.
Looking ahead to 2018: As things stand, Cambodia could have a different representative next season with Boeung Ket currently languishing seven points off the pace in the C-League. Preah Khan Reach Svay Rieng remain in pole position, although Nagaworld and Phnom Penh Crown are poised to pounce in the event of a slip-up.
Representatives: Johor Darul Ta’zim (eliminated in zonal semi-finals), FELDA United (eliminated in group stage)
Qualifying for the ASEAN zone semi-finals and losing only to the eventual champions only on goal difference would ordinarily be a creditable achievement, but not for a side like Johor Darul Ta’zim.
2017 AFC CUP – ASEAN ZONAL SEMI-FINAL 2ND LEG | 31ST MAY 2017 Full Time CERES NEGROS 2-1 JDT 26' Kota Kawase 90+4' Fernando Rodríguez 64' Gabriel Guerra Aggregate: [4-4] Ceres Negros win on Away Goals Rule Hidup Johor Demi Johor #officialJDT #JDT #HarimauSelatan #SouthernTigers #PermataSelatan #JewelOfTheSouth
As former champions in 2015 and arguably the strongest club side in the region, JDT would have, firstly, not been satisfied by finishing second in their group and then falling in the first stage of the knockout round.
It was also a disappointing venture for FELDA United, who finished bottom of Group G with just one win from six games.
The tournament came at a bad time for them when they were having their early-season run in form, although they have since rectified their problems on the domestic front.
Looking ahead to 2018: Malaysia’s two teams for next year’s AFC Cup have already been confirmed – JDT as Super League champions and Kedah as FA Cup winners. However, should the former qualify for the Champions League group stage, their place will likely be filled by Pahang.
Representatives: Magwe (eliminated in group stage), Yadanarbon (eliminated in group stage)
For a country who has made remarkable improvement on the international stage in recent years, Myanmar fans can be unsatisfied with the lack of progress in their club football.
Apart from Yangon United, no side has really made the step up as illustrated by Magwe and Yadanarbon both finishing bottom of Group F and H respectively, combing for a meagre six points out of a possible 36.
Yadanarbon, in particular, promised plenty after beating Home United in their opening game, but never tasted victory again.
Looking ahead to 2018: At present, it is surprise package Shan United who are leading the way in the Myanmar National League. Only four points separate them, Yangon and Yadanarbon, and all three would also fancy their chances of qualifying by winning the General Aung San Shield.
Representatives: Ceres-Negros (ASEAN champions, eliminated in inter-zone semi-finals), Global Cebu (eliminated in zonal semi-finals)
What more could you ask of Ceres-Negros as they were crowned inaugural ASEAN champions of the AFC Cup?
However, Global also gave an excellent account of themselves by pipping Darul Ta’zim to top spot in Group F, before only losing narrowly to Home United courtesy of a couple of last-minute goals.
The future certainly looks bright for the Philippines Football League and its clubs, but the trick now is to maintain a level of consistency and emerge amongst ASEAN’s best once more next year.
Looking ahead to 2018: The top two of the PFL – in its debut season – look set to qualify for the AFC Cup. It is hard to predict how it would be given the scheduling of matches has meant that a team like Ceres currently has played seven games than someone like Stallion Laguna. For now, though, Meralco Manila look odds-on to make their continental debut in 2018 as they presently hold a ten-point lead at the summit.
Representatives: Home United (ASEAN runners-up), Tampines Rovers (eliminated in group stage)
After years of disappointing, Singapore football finally had something to cheer in the form of Home United’s exciting run to the ASEAN zone final.
They produced some of the most thrilling football and averaged three goals a game in the group stage.
Unfortunately, Tampines Rovers could not match their S.League rivals’ achievements, finishing third in Group G and finding themselves only the receiving end of some hefty losses.
Looking ahead to 2018: The S.League looks set to be dominated by Albirex Niigata (S) once again but the Japanese outfit are ineligible to represent Singapore in AFC competition. This opens the door for a repeat appearance for both Home and Tampines by finishing second, while the former are also still in the running to win the Singapore Cup.
Representatives: Ha Noi (eliminated in group stage), Than Quang Ninh (eliminated in group stage)
Like Myanmar, Vietnam are a country that are struggling to replicate their impressive international form at a domestic level.
On paper, their clubs should be making a bigger impact in the AFC Cup with the quality at their disposal yet both Ha Noi and Than Quang Ninh failed to make it past the group stage.
Ha Noi, in particular, will be wondering how they missed out despite finishing level on points with Ceres in Group G, only to be pipped to the zonal semi-finals by JDT as the best second-placed team.
Looking ahead to 2018: Just like last year, the race of the V.League 1 title appears to be going down to the wire as just nine points separate leaders FLC Thanh Hoa and 8th-placed Hai Phong. An easier route to qualification would be through the Vietnamese Cup, with SHB Da Nang, Becamex Binh Duong, Song Lam Nghe An and QNK Quang Nam the sides left in the running.