Fiesta of football awaits Ceres and Hanoi, says Marañón
Bacolod: 2019 AFC Cup leading scorer Bienvenido Marañón is eagerly anticipating the showdown between two of Southeast Asia's best sides when Ceres Negros host Hanoi FC in the ASEAN Zonal Semi-finals on Tuesday.
The 33-year-old Spanish striker has enjoyed another Continental campaign to remember for Filipino club Ceres improving on his Group Stage scoring tallies from the 2017 and 2018 campaigns to lead the scorers' standings with nine goals.
The-AFC.com spoke exclusively with Marañón to look ahead to the showdown with Vietnam's Hanoi FC, reflect on the tournament so far and recall past campaigns.
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Hi Bienvenido, thanks for speaking to us. Firstly, how has your experience been of this year’s AFC Cup campaign so far? How does it compare to the Group Stages your appeared in 2018 and 2017?
I believe that this year we played in the toughest group in the tournament. So every match we took part in we enjoyed and played as if it were a final.
Without doubt, our best match from the Group Stage was when we faced Persija Jakarta in Indonesia.
We needed a victory to qualify for the knockout stage and playing against a big team like Persija with their huge support in the stands was very memorable.
Compared to the previous editions, I would say it’s been a bit like the 2017 campaign - that was a really tough Group Stage experience too.
And you personally have enjoyed a great tournament so far: nine goals in the Group Stage to lead the scorers’ list. Would you say this has been your best AFC Cup campaign so far?
Well, personally speaking I have looked at the year as a chance to improve my game and I feel I am on the right path.
My past experiences and physical encounters have helped me a lot and I feel I am in the best years of my career right now, scoring even more goals.
The results so far are a result of the work I put in at training and outside of it: eating well, gym sessions and physiotherapy.
Hanoi FC are up next in the ASEAN Zonal semi-finals and they are sure to be a difficult opponent. What do you know about them?
I am looking forward to facing them. I know they have one of the best squads in Southeast Asia and both home and away matches are sure to be difficult.
We will need to channel the same spirit of the side that beat one of the ASEAN giants in 2017 at this stage when we defeated Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT).
You mention the game against JDT, you personally must have mixed feelings about this stage of the competition. Joy in 2017 but disappointment in 2018 after receiving a red card that ruled you out of the ASEAN Zonal finals that year.
The semi-finals against JDT was a fantastic time for us. We had very little experience of Continental football at that time and faced the best team in Southeast Asia. We played very well against them and defeated them to reach the final.
Even now, for me, JDT is the best team in Southeast Asia and they are the side we need to measure ourselves up to as we continue to grow and improve.
As for last year’s semi-final, while we enjoyed the first leg at home the second leg in Yangon was a very tough experience due to the weather conditions.
We were able to win and make it to the finals again, but I was unable to play against Home United due to a red card I received - not a positive memory.
Indeed, missing out on the 2018 finals has given me a lot of motivation this year to return to that stage.
Hanoi FC also have a prolific striker in their ranks: Ganiyu Oseni. The Nigerian has matched your tally of goals so far, is this a battle of the AFC Cup’s best frontmen?
Well, I don’t usually focus on other teams apart from when they are our direct opponents.
I do feel that Hanoi FC have come through a less difficult group and so their striker has had more and easier opportunities to score. I value my goals a lot as they were scored in the toughest group in the competition.
I don’t see it as a battle between us, it will be a fiesta of football as it’s a match between two great teams. There’s not so many chances to see a match like this so it’ll be one to be enjoyed.
And finally, what would it mean to you to win this match?
For us, the AFC Cup is the most important competition. It is our number one priority for our season. We want to remain in the competition as long as possible and go as far as we can.
The AFC Cup not only allows you to enjoy your football, but you get to travel to many wonderful places in Asia like Jakarta, Hanoi and Singapore.
We love this competition.
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