MANILA, Philippines – In its third appearance in the AFC Champions League qualifying play-offs, Ceres-Negros FC sets its sights on history as it targets a maiden berth in the main tournament.
"The mindset is always on winning regardless if we're prepared or we only have a short time together, long time together, it's all about winning," said Ceres captain Stephan Schrock on Tuesday, January 7, during the Philippine Sportswriters Association forum at the Amelie Hotel.
"I'm playing against the idea of losing. In the back of my mind, I want to qualify. I'm looking for history. I'm playing with the thought of qualifying for the Champions League group stage for the first time."
Schrock is hoping too that Ceres can surpass its performance in 2018 when the Busmen stunned Brisbane Roar of Australia in the 2nd round only to fall short in the final phase against Tianjin Quanjian of China.
The Bacolod-based squad will start its campaign against Burmese club Shan United in round 1 of the AFC Champions League qualifiers on Tuesday, January 14, 7:30 pm, at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
The winner of the must-win knockout match will advance to the 2nd round and face Thai League 1 team Port FC, which is reinforced by former Ceres captain Martin Steuble in its squad.
Although the perennial Philippines Football League champions have a perfect 5-0 win record against Shan United, the team is not taking its opponent lightly as the top football club of Myanmar reportedly beefed its lineup with foreign reinforcements.
But Ceres head coach Risto Vidakovic is banking on the fact that his players are motivated to play on an equal field as both teams will be kicking off their first game of the year.
"We don't know what to expect because like us, they haven't played any game so we don't know anything about them," said Vidakovic, who also added that Ceres will be playing without its usual home crowd support in Bacolod.
"There are many changes in the team especially the foreigners. They brought new players so it's a different team that they faced last time."
On the other hand, the top Philippine football club signed Mark Hartmann, Pika Minegishi, Josh Grommen, and Arnie Pasinabo to boost its bid for a maiden AFC Champions League berth.
"We have some new players, we have players that have been there before. We need to get the same mindset and fitness level," said Schrock as Ceres only started training on Monday, January 6, following a three-month break. – Rappler.com
More commonly known as “Bee”, Beatrice is a multimedia sports reporter for Rappler, who covers Phillippine sports governance, national teams, football and the UAAP. Stay tuned for her news and features on Philippine sports and videos like the Rappler Athlete’s Corner and Rappler Sports Timeout.