Home United outclassed by Ceres-Negros in AFC Cup ASEAN zonal final
Singapore's Home United failed in their bid to become AFC Cup ASEAN champions after a 2-0 defeat to Philippines outfit Ceres-Negros at Panaad Park and Stadium on Wednesday night saw them lose 3-2 on aggregate.
Ceres, who had knocked out Malaysia's Johor Darul Ta'zim at the previous stage, stamped their authority as they extended their unbeaten home record to 19 matches with a commanding display.
An early goal from OJ Porteria and a brilliant Manuel Ott free kick settled the issue for Risto Vidakovic's side.
Buoyed on by the vociferous home crowd, Ceres came out with all guns blazing, and levelled on aggregate inside just 90 seconds.
A superb left-wing cross from Iain Ramsay left the Home defence in sixes and sevens, with Porteria volleying home first-time after Sirina Camara failed to clear at the back post.
The Busmen could have gone two up on 14 minutes when Ramsay's cross was handled by Abdil Qaiyyim in the box.
However, Spanish forward Fernando Rodriguez blazed over from 12 yards out to the dismay of the home fans.
Rodriguez got a chance at redemption two minutes later when he was put through on goal, but was denied by the onrushing Home goalkeeper Hassan Sunny.
Home gradually got into the game midway through the first half and almost scored on 26 minutes. Izzdin Shafiq's long-range free kick took a bounce off the turf before coming back off the crossbar.
Two minutes later, Croatian forward Stipe Plazibat fired straight at Roland Muller from three yards out after Faris Ramli did well to dispossess Manuel Herrera.
Then in the 39th minute, Khairul Nizam fired wide from just outside the box after being teed up by Plazibat.
They were made to pay the price for those misses as Ceres grabbed their second goal of the night and went 3-2 up on aggregate three minutes before half-time.
After Afiq Yunos fouled Porteria just outside the area, Ott stepped up to deliver a peach of a free kick that curled into the top corner and gave Hassan no chance at all.
Home coach Aidil Sharin reacted by bringing on Croatian front man Marijan Suto for Afiq at half-time, but the away side enjoyed little headway against a stout Ceres defence led by Manuel Herrera.
There was a good opportunity to make it 3-3 on 65 minutes, but Faris' left-footed volley went straight to Muller after a half-cleared Plazibat cross.
Plazibat then went mightily close in the 83rd minute, with Plazibat volleying onto the crossbar from six yards out after a half-cleared free kick.
Faris then fired straight at Muller from the edge of the box deep into injury time as the Protectors eventually came up unstuck in Bacolod City.
They will need to regroup fast, with a two-legged Singapore Cup quarterfinal against Brunei DPMM coming up shortly.
Ceres-Negros: Roland Muller (GK), Martin Steuble (C) (Junior Munoz 75'), Carli de Murga, Manuel Herrera, Jeffrey Christiaens, OJ Porteria (Bienvenido Maranon 73'), Manuel Ott, Kevin Ingreso, Iain Ramsay, Stephan Schrock, Fernando Rodriguez (Kota Kawase 64')
Home United: Hassan Sunny (GK, C), Juma'at Jantan, Abdil Qaiyyim, Afiq Yunos (Marijan Suto 46'), Sirina Camara, Hariss Harun, Izzdin Shafiq, Khairul Nizam (Amiruldin Asraf 81'), Faris Ramli, Adam Swandi (Aqhari Abdullah 60'), Stipe Plazibat
Kenneth Tan is a Singapore-based football writer on S.League and AFC Cup for ESPN FC and FourFourTwo. Twitter: @KennerveT