Isaka Cernak lauds Shahril, Izzdin after dream AFC Cup debut against Ceres

Kelvin Leong Kelvin Leong

Home United’s new recruit Isaka Cernak made a dream debut in the AFC Cup Zonal Final and hails the importance of Shahril Ishak and Izzdin Shafiq.

Blake Powell gave hosts Ceres Negros an eighth-minute lead before Cernak reacted quickest to a rebound to level it at 1-1 in the first leg played at the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod on Wednesday night.

The second leg will be played on August 8 at the Jalan Besar Stadium in Singapore and Home go into the game with the luxury of having scored an away goal.

“We knew it would be tough away from home but as long as Ceres were in front of us, we were happy to soak up the pressure and play on the counter,” Cernak told FOX Sports Asia.

“I think it was a very strong defensive performance from us, the entire team worked extremely hard and stuck to our coach’s game plan.

“It (his goal) has now put us in a good position to be confident going into the second leg at home in Singapore. We’ll have to turn our focus quickly to prepare for it and hopefully, make history for Singapore football.”

Isaka may have stolen the limelight with his debut goal but the Australian winger, who was making his first start for the club since joining them in July has seen enough to know where their strengths lie.

Playing without key midfielder Song Ui-Young who failed to travel despite being declared fit by doctors on Monday, the Protectors dug deep and relied on the experience of captain Izzdin Shafiq and veteran ace Shahril Ishak.

“It was a pleasure playing with Shahril in attack and together with Izzdin, they are crucial to this team. Both are leaders of the team and the players respond well to their leadership both on and off the pitch.

“If we are to make history and qualify for the Inter-zonal Final, these two players will be key and they are both very smart on the ball to create goalscoring opportunities.”

Ceres head coach Risto Vidakovic will have a lot to ponder as he wonders how his team had more than 60 percent of the possession and yet not come away with a win.

With an away goal advantage, Home are likely to let Ceres dictate play at Jalan Besar as they look to hit them on the counter. South Korean midfielder Song will be back in contention and this could spell trouble for the Filipino side.

VIdakovic will be hoping Stephan Schrock is fit enough to start the second leg next Wednesday after only coming on for the last 25 minutes in Bacolod.

Winners of the tie will progress to the Inter-zonal Final where they face North Korean outfit April 25.