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Underdog Ceres looks to slay another giant in Tokyo

Underdog Ceres looks to slay another giant in Tokyo

A creditable performance—even in defeat—would already be an achievement.

But Ceres-Negros has been emboldened by incredible feats in the past, so why not aim to slay another giant?

The Busmen set out as the heavy underdogs as they take on Japanese League powerhouse FC Tokyo on Tuesday night in the playoff for an AFC Champions League spot at cavernous Ajinomoto Stadium in Tokyo.

This marks the second time that Ceres has reached this stage of Asia’s most prestigious competition, but this time, the Busmen are facing an even difficult challenge without captain Stephan Schrock, who has been suspended for incurring two yellow cards in previous matches.

“We ave nothing to lose,” said Ceres coach Risto Vidakovic, whose team stunned Port FC of Thailand, 1-0, in Bangkok last week to advance to the playoff.

“We have to enjoy the atmosphere. We have to enjoy the game. This is a new experience for us. But it doesn’t mean we are not going to play harder than in the previous rounds.”

Aside from Schrock, who scored the only goal against Port, the Busmen are also dealing with injuries to key players, including Jeffrey Christiaens.

Vidakovic actually no longer has the depth in the lineup from previous seasons as a number of stars departed the club last season.

Schrock’s absence could set the stage for one more attacking player to step up with Dylan de Bruycker or Mark Hartmann in line to start in his place.

For Ceres players Takashi Odawara and Pika Minegishi, who grew up in Japan, the match is a fulfillment of a dream. Born and raised in Tokyo but now based in Manila, Odawara is a lifelong supporter of FC Tokyo and regularly goes to matches when he’s home. Now, he’ll be going up against a team that nurtured his dream of becoming a professional football player.

“I would watch the games of FC Tokyo with my family,” the 28-year-old said. “This is a dream come true.” INQ