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Marañón: We have nothing to lose

Bangkok: Ceres Negros striker Bienvenido Marañón has insisted the Filipino side travel to Thailand with no pressure as they prepare to face off against Port FC in the 2020 AFC Champions League Preliminary Round 2 at PAT Stadium on Tuesday. 

Ceres overcame Myanmar’s Shan United 3-2 in Manila in Preliminary Round 1 last Tuesday, with the Spaniard unsurprisingly amongst the goals as he began his fifth Continental campaign with the Bacolod City club.

And while Thai League 1 opposition in the form of Port will likely offer a sterner test, the 33-year-old revealed that the mood is upbeat in the Ceres camp as they aim to cause a major upset and move one step closer to a first appearance in the AFC Champions League.

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“The match against Shan helped to build up our confidence and build up our rhythm and understanding on the pitch ahead of the Port FC game,” said Marañón.

“That said, we do expect a different match against Port FC due to the quality of our rival and the fact we'll be playing away but, nevertheless, we're excited about the game.

“We'll go into the tie intending to enjoy it and win it using our style. We've got nothing to lose but there is something to win.”

Ceres produced an unbeaten Philippines Football League campaign in 2019 to win their third successive title as Marañón finished second in the scoring charts on 30 goals, while they completed the double by winning their first Copa Paulino Alcantara.

Port, meanwhile, were in with a strong shout of lifting their first-ever Thai League 1 title with two games remaining last season but fell away at the last. They did, however, win the Thai Fa Cup after defeating Ratchaburi in November’s final to advance to the AFC Champions League’s qualifying rounds.

Tuesday’s match will see Ceres come up against their former player Martin Steuble, who made the move from Bacolod City to the Thai capital in mid-2019 after playing a huge role in Ceres’ rise to the summit of football in the Philippines, while Marañón will also face a couple of countrymen.

“I know that they have two Spanish players (Sergio Suarez and David Rochela) and they are doing very well there,” noted Marañón.

“But I like it (playing against other Spaniards) very much. Despite the rivalry during the game, and being enemies on the pitch, there is always that connection and familiarity that puts you more at ease.

“They also signed our former captain, Martin Steuble. The Thai League is a very competitive competition so any club who participate in that championship are a decent side.”

While Port will start the one-legged tie as favourites to advance to a Play-off clash with Japan’s FC Tokyo in what is the final hurdle in reaching the AFC Champions League, Ceres, and Marañón, should give them plenty cause for concern.

After registering his first AFC Cup goals in 2016, Marañón has been prolific for Ceres ever since, with the Cadiz native’s strikes firing Ceres into the Inter-Zone semi-finals a year later as he finished the tournament’s second highest scorer.

In 2018, Marañón bettered his tally from a year earlier, netting 10 times to finish second in the scoring charts once more, but Ceres exited at the ASEAN Zonal final stage.

And despite the Filipino side being eliminated in the ASEAN Zonal semi-finals last year, the Spaniard’s 10 goals were enough to earn him the top scorer accolade as he took his tally to an incredible 28 in his three full AFC Cup campaigns.

“It was an honour to be the top scorer; it wasn't just the work of one year, but four years of taking part in the competition,” Marañón added.

“This year, I'd say our team is much younger and with a little bit less experience than before. We do face a problem in that as our local players improve as footballers they often move on to other clubs outside of the Philippines, which can weaken us.

“I'd say of the sides I've played with, the best probably still remains the 2017 team when we were crowned ASEAN Zonal champions, beating Johor Darul Ta'zim on the way. Nevertheless, each year we bring in new faces and develop new players.

“It's difficult to maintain the same level, but despite all the challenges we're still among the best teams in Southeast Asia. I am sure that 2020 is going to be the best year yet!”

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