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It meant the world to us: Porteria, Ott recall Ceres Negros' 2017 AFC Cup glory 

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Bacolod: Ceres Negros’ victory in the 2017 AFC Cup ASEAN Zonal Final, three years ago on Sunday, was a historic moment for football in the Philippines.

A 3-2 aggregate victory over Singapore's Home United ensured the Filipino club became the AFC Cup's first-ever ASEAN Zone champions, with their 2-0 victory in Bacolod on August 9, 2017, sealing their place in the tournament's record books.

To commemorate the achievement, spoke exclusively to the Ceres goalscorers, OJ Porteria and Manny Ott, to reflect on a magical night at Panaad Park.

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Hello Manny and OJ. It's three years to the day that Ceres Negros became the AFC Cup's first-ever ASEAN Zonal Champions But before we go into that match, what are your memories from the first leg a week earlier in Singapore?

Ott: It was a very a difficult game. For one, we didn’t play at our best that day but also credit to Home United playing very smart and giving us a hard time in Jalan Besar. Of course, the first leg was a disappointing result for us, but we knew that at Panaad Stadium we always show our best side, so that gave us confidence.

Porteria: I didn’t start in the first leg at Jalan Besar Stadium. I could see that Home United were a good side playing at home in Singapore, but I knew that we had better quality. Even after playing against them in Singapore I was confident that we would beat them at home.

What do you remember feeling ahead of that decisive second leg?

Ott: We knew we had to win to get what we worked so hard for, but most importantly we wanted to leave it all out on the field, redeeming ourselves for the first leg performance.

Porteria: The feeling I had leading up to the second leg against Home United was excitement. I knew we were going to play in front of home crowd in Bacolod and that would give us an extra push.

The opening goal came just two minutes after the kick-off, scored by OJ, what can you both recall of that moment?

Porteria: I remember Iain Ramsay crossing the ball and the defenders trying to head it out but luckily the ball came to my foot and it went in. And Panaad went electric, I coudn’t even hear a thing. It was kind of like a weight lifted off my shoulders, I was just so proud to be a part of everything and to contribute to the team’s success.

Ott: It was a super cross from Rambo and OJ's goal definitely lifted our spirits even more. While I actually didn't care who scored that day, I'm happy he was there at the right time to net the first goal of the game.

And then Manny added an important second just before half-time...

Ott: Sometimes after training, we did some shooting and free-kicks, and I was very comfy shooting from that position. So when that free-kick happened, I just had that feeling that it would be mine to take. So I told the guys I would score. And happily I did.

Porteria: Manny’s goal was vital for us because it gave us the cushion we needed to secure the win. I remember Panaad being packed and not being able to hear a thing. Every time we won a free-kick, corner or throw-in the crowd would go crazy.

You still had to ride out the second half and just one goal would have brought Home United back on level terms. How was the feeling amongst the team?

Ott: Even when we missed our chances, like Fernando [Rodriguez] missing a penalty in the first half, we never panicked. We just wanted to win that final so badly since we were working towards being ASEAN Zonal champions for the years before.

Porteria: I wasn’t too concerned about Fernando missing the penalty because I could feel the energy that the team was giving. Once the game started in Bacolod, I could feel that we were going to win the game.Our momentum was hard to stop in this game and I knew that right after kick off.

What was going through your mind when the referee blew for full-time and you became the first ASEAN Zonal champions?

Porteria: I remember when the whistle blew everybody just stormed the pitch. I remember being in tears, everyone in the team understood what we had to do .All of the guys were just hugging each other, crying, jumping and screaming. It was like a weight had lifted off our shoulders and we did our country proud.

Ott: It was an unbelievable feeling. Everyone was so happy and to achieve our goal was just amazing. I remember everyone just hugging each other, guys were getting all teared up. It was a crazy atmosphere that night, on and off the pitch. That was very special and all of the boys will always remember that moment.

No matter what comes next, Ceres Negros will go down in tournament history as the AFC Cup's first-ever ASEAN Zonal champions. What does that achievement mean to you?

Ott: Everything went right that year and it just felt amazing, it still does thinking back to those days. To have been ASEAN Zonal champions will always be something we will remember, and I’m just very proud to have been part of that team.

Porteria: It meant the world to us. A club from the Philippines, a club from Bacolod, to rise up and be the first ASEAN Zonal Final champions was big for the Philippines. We were so proud of everyone involved. We were proud to be a part of Ceres, we were proud to be from Bacolod and we were proud to be Filipinos.

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