BACOLOD CITY – Ceres-La Salle produced a glittering display of attacking football as it overwhelmed Sheikh Jamal of Bangladesh, 5-0, Tuesday night to clinch top spot in Group E of the AFC Cup at Panaad Stadium.
Spanish striker Adrian Gallardo bagged a hat trick to raise his tally to eight goals in the competition as the home side rolled into the Round of 16 in style.
Filipino international Patrick Reichelt and Spanish winger Bienvenido Maranon were also on target for Ceres which finished the group stage with 11 points.
The Bacolod side also earned homefield advantage for the Round of 16 on March 24. Ceres will host the second ranked team in Group G which could either be South China of Hong Kong, Maziya of Maldives or Yangon United of Myanmar.
Kaya became the second Filipino club to reach the Round of 16 following a scoreless stalemate with New Radiant of Maldives in Male.
With Kitchee of Hong Kong beating Balestier of Singapore, 4-0, at Mongkok Stadium early Tuesday, Kaya was already assured of its place in the next round regardless of the result of its last match.
Still, Kaya got the result it needed to end up with 10 points for No. 2 in Group F which set up the Filipino club to a duel with reigning champion Johor Darul Ta’zim of Malaysia on May 25.
“We’re very happy we made history,” said Ceres coach Franklin Muescan. “This is a very good result. Everything we did in training came out well in the match.”
Muescan added: “We are thankful to the owner of the club, Leorey Yanson, for making sure we get enough support. We really prepared well. But the big factor was losing in the league (two weeks ago) that was an eye-opener for us. We knew we needed to address some problems on the pitch.”
The early pressure paid off for Ceres as Maranon’s thunderous volley from just outside the area opened the scoring in the seventh minute.
Gallardo scored the first of his three goals two minutes later as he directed a low cross from Reichelt to the bottom corner.
The home side refused to let up in the second half as Gallardo made it 3-nil with another tap-in after superb wing play from Reichelt again on the right in the 56th minute.
Gallardo got his hat trick in the 65th minute, latching unto a headed pass from Reichelt as the visitors’ defense failed to clear the ball.
The Spanish striker turned provider for Ceres’ fifth goal, finding Reichelt with a lovely reverse ball inside the box. The Filipino took the ball down with his left foot before rifling the ball home, sparking wild celebrations in the stadium.