Written by: Shawn Lim
Hougang United progressed to the quarter-finals of the RHB Singapore Cup 2017 after grinding out a narrow 1-0 win over Ceres-Negros FC of the Philippines in a Preliminary Round match at the Hougang Stadium on Tuesday night.
There was little separating the two sides in the opening period as they tried to wrestle control of the match, but were reduced to long-range efforts from outside the 18-yard box.
Azhar Sairudin spotted Ceres goalkeeper Louie Casas off his line on ten minutes and tried an ambitious lob from the halfway line, but the latter backtracked just in time to collect the ball.
There was a glorious chance for the Cheetahs to break the deadlock in the 23rd minute, but Fumiya Kogure saw his dipping free-kick hit the roof of the net with Casas at full-stretch.
The hosts had their hearts in their mouth two minutes later when Fernando Ortega pounced on a loose ball on the right flank before sending Jose Porteria through on goal with a lofted pass.
The flag stayed down as the Hougang defence appealed for offside and the 23-year-old winger raced into the 18-yard box before sliding a low cross that Atsushi Shirota almost slid into his own net, but Nazrul Nazari was well-placed to hack the ball off the line.
The best chance of the half fell to the Cheetahs five minutes before the break when Kogure sent Nazrul through on goal with a slide-rule pass, but the winger saw his fierce drive flashed narrowly wide of the mark.
Both sides continued to struggle to carve out clear-cut chances after play resumed for the second period, with Hougang custodian Khairulhin Khalid’s brilliant low save to push Porteria’s stinging shot from the edge of the box being the most noteworthy.
The deadlock was finally broken on 79 minutes when Ceres captain Carlos De Murga failed to clear Ali Hudzaifi’s cross, leaving substitute Antoine Viterale to slot the ball home from eight yards out.
The goal woke Ceres up from their slumber and the Philippines side threw the kitchen sink at the Cheetahs goal in stoppage time, but were unable to find the equaliser as Hougang hung on for a place in the last eight.
Hougang United Head Coach Philippe Aw: “We know a lot about Ceres, we watched them in the AFC Cup and in pre-season against Geylang (International). They have a number of good players, especially (Stephen) Schrock, so I felt we shut them down well today.
“We know we were not going to create a lot of chances with the way we set up today and all we needed was one goal, which we got it in the end.”
Ceres-Negros FC Head Coach Risto Vidaković: “We tried to play football for the entire 90 minutes, but the field was very heavy and it was very difficult to play on it. They (Hougang) defended a lot during the match, but this is football. They scored and we did not, so we go home.”
Hougang United: Khairulhin Khalid (GK), Ali Hudzafi, Delwinder Singh (Lionel Tan 85’), Atsushi Shirota, Nazrul Nazari, Fabian Kwok, Zulfahmi Arifin, Azhar Sairudin (C) (Antoine Viterale 64’), Syahiran Miswan, Fumiya Kogure, Fareez Farhan (Afiq Noor 81’)
Ceres-Negros FC: Louis Casas (GK), Joshua Grommen (Martin Steuble 68’), Carlos De Murga (C), Luke Woodland, Junior Munoz, Kevin Ingreso (Manuel Lopez 81’), Jason De Jong, Jose Porteria, Iain Ramsay (Bienvenido Morejon 54’), Stephan Schrock, Fernando Ortega