IF there’s one thing more striking than the quality of goals scored in the AFC Champions League preliminary match between Ceres Negros FC and Shan United, it has to be the number of yellow cards flashed during the heated encounter.
The Bahraini referee handed eight cards in all, four for each side, but even more astounding is that five of those yellow cards were racked up in the tumultuous last 12 minutes of regulation.
How no one was sent off with a red card is the mystery.
Still, I have to say that last Tuesday’s regional qualifiers was one of the most exciting televised matches I’ve seen of late, end-to-end attacking football with all the drama.
Ceres wasted no time after the first whistle blew at the Rizal Memorial Stadium, as Robert Lopez Mendy converted a pass from Hikaru Minegishi on the 5th minute.
The home team, buoyed by a enthusiastic crowd, dominated the early part of the match, creating chance after chance, one of which Bienvenido Marañon calmly converted just before half-time off an OJ Porteria assist.
The club from Myanmar created opportunities of their own, and with their hopes of advancing to the next round fading as they trailed 2-0, went for broke in the second half, boots flying and arms flailing.
Shan United’s physical play paid off with a goal from striker Zin Min Tun, who sneaked a mean header between two defenders, beyond the outstretched hands of the otherwise outstanding Roland Muller.
It didn’t take long for Ceres to respond, as Porteria converted a short pass from Mike Ott to restore its two-goal advantage at 3-1.
The visitors had been resorting to dirty tackles for a while, but it was at this point when tempers nearly boiled over, resulting in a deluge of yellow cards.
As Ceres began to tire, Shan pressed on, and in an ensuing scramble that saw a couple of defenders ball watching near the mouth of goal Djedje Djawa again slashed the lead by one.
Ceres did survive the Burmese onslaught for a 3-2 win to advance to the second round of the preliminaries and face Thailand’s Port FC.
Despite the win, questions were raised against the fitness of the Ceres players who clearly lost steam toward the end of the game.
The Philippine champions were said to have barely a week of preparation for last Tuesday’s match, following a much-deserved six-week break.
The club from Negros will be facing tough Port in Bangkok four days from now, and one cannot help but ask if the Ceres players would be fully fit by then.
Port might not be the champions of the Thai League 1, but as third placers last season, the team from Bangkok are by no means pushovers.
Ceres has to work doubly hard in the next few days to regain its optimum form against a club that is definitely stronger than the Myanmar club that already gave them problems.