Fitness level will be the major concern of Ceres Negros FC entering its crucial match against Port FC of Thailand in the next qualification stage of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League on 21 January.
Despite emerging victorious with a 3-2 decision over Shan United FC of Myanmar in the opening stage, Ceres coach Risto Vidakovic pointed out that their crumbling condition in the second half nearly cost them the victory.
And it’s something they should work on.
“Shan United played well in the second half and we cannot stay on the game with the same intensity we had in the first half,” said the Serbian-Spanish guru who played for the Yugoslavian national team from 1991 to 1998.
“They played in several games in their league in Myanmar and they are in better form than us.”
Vidakovic said their lack of preparation showed up, resulting to a rusty performance in the second half, where the Burmese engineered a furious rally that exposed their vulnerability.
“As we know, we only had three days of preparation before the game,” he said.
“In football, the club needs six weeks to prepare properly. For us, it was like a pre-season game and it was too early in the tournament.”
“I don’t know how much percent we are, but I think we are still very far from the level we want to be because it’s only three training sessions and it’s not enough.”
Ceres striker OJ Porteria believes that despite the drop in their physicality, it was their composure and passion for winning that ultimately pushed them to grab the victory.
“Obviously, our match fitness showed in the second half, but I’m just really proud of the boys for grinding it out and playing it through the final whistle,” Porteria, a familiar name in the national football squad, said.
“In the second half, we really had to grind it out and run. It’s still a good step, but definitely not the level we want to be.”
“It’s not easy having three to four days of preparation, and a lot of us were coming from abroad, where the weather is cold.”
Another particular concern for the Negros-based squad will be the health of their defensive anchor Manuel Herrera, who crashed badly in the 35th minute following a collision with a Burmese player.
“We have to check on ‘Super’ because he was kicked in the finger and they don’t know what the report of the doctor is,” Vidakovic said.
With the battle against Port FC drawing near, Ceres vows to strategize sharper and showcase more intense action in order to win the qualifying phase.
“We do not know anything about Port FC yet, so we have to watch some of its previous games, analyze it and see how we can face them, and how we can play the best way against them,” the European mentor said.
“Hopefully, nobody is going to get injured because it is very risky for us also. But slowly and surely we’ll go and get where we want.”