Home United arrived in the Philippines over the weekend to prepare ahead of Wednesday’s crucial second leg of their AFC Cup zonal final at the Panaad Park and Stadium in Bacolod City.
The Protectors lead 2-1 from the first leg, but face a Ceres Negros team with a home record that is second to none as they attempt to become ASEAN zonal champions.
Aidil Sharin’s side will also be missing a key player in the shape of central defender Irfan Fandi – the 19-year old flew to Australia with Singapore’s U22 squad in preparation for the SEA games later this month and therefore will not be available for the club’s most important game in years.
Irfan has been a rock at the back for Home this season, but Aidil was seemingly preparing for his absence in the first leg when he installed Hariss Harun as centre-back alongside the young star.
It seems likely the Singapore international, and match winner from the first leg, will start at the back, the only selection question being whether Abdil Qaiyyim or veteran Afiq Yunos will start alongside Hariss.
Home will rely on their counter-attacking prowess in Bacolod, a tactic that paid off well in previous AFC CUP ties in Vietnam when the Protectors hit five past Than Quang Ninh and against Global Cebu in a 2-2 draw.
The likelihood Home will again sit back and hit Ceres on the break was borne out by Aidil in his comments following the first leg.
“We have the lead and the pressure is now on them to win at home,” he said. “Ceres are clearly a good team, and it will not be easy to play there, but anything can happen in football.”
Ceres, meanwhile, will be hoping another big home performance will be enough to carry them through.
The Busmen are unbeaten in 18 home games and have recorded big wins in Bacolod in the AFC Cup this season, including a 5-0 thrashing of Tampines Rovers and a 6-2 win over Hanoi FC.
The main concern for Ceres will be the fitness of main goal getter Bienvenido Maranon, the Spanish hitman was recovering from a calf injury in the first leg and looked out of sorts. He was eventually substituted in the second half after a subdued performance.
Still, midfielder Iain Ramsay reckons Ceres’ home form will prove vital.
“It was disappointing not to come away with the win in Singapore, but we reflect on the game and the things we did wrong,” he told the AFC website.
“We’ve worked hard and we’re excited for the crucial decider at home on Wednesday.”
“We know what we’re like in Bacolod,” said the former A-League player. “It’s our fortress there.
“There will be a strong crowd who’ll get behind us. They [Home United] will definitely feel it.
“Our home support is like the 12th man, so we can’t wait to play at home.”
The winner of the zonal final will meet FC Istiklol of Tajikistan in the two-legged inter zonal semi-final later in August.