Bacolod City: Wander Luiz has revealed that he had been waiting all game for the opportunity to lob Ceres Negros goalkeeper Roland Muller after the Brazilian’s audacious strike two minutes from time saw Becamex Binh Duong claim a dramatic 1-0 victory and advance to the 2019 AFC Cup ASEAN Zonal Semi-finals on Wednesday.
With the clock ticking down and the Vietnamese side needing three points to progress as the best-placed runners-up, the forward won possession back on the right touchline and then, from fully 35 yards, floated the ball over Muller’s head and into the back of the net to spark joyous celebrations among the visitors at Pana-ad Park and Football Stadium.
The game had been heading for a draw up until that moment and a point for Becamex would have seen them exit, with Singapore’s Tampines Rovers in Group F taking the highest-ranked runners-up spot. But Luiz’s goal ensured that 13 points from his side’s Group G campaign were enough to edge them above Tampines on goal difference.
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Group G: Ceres Negros FC 0-1 Becamex Binh Duong
Group G: Persija Jakarta 6-1 Shan United FC
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“I saw from the beginning that the goalkeeper was always out of the goal so I was waiting for an opportunity,” admitted the 27-year-old, whose side’s captain Nguyen Anh Duc had earlier missed a penalty.
“The game was passing by and that chance had not arrived, but in the last minute I was able to recover the ball and I had the opportunity that I was hoping for, so I was very happy. I scored two similar goals in last year's V-league.
“When I kicked the ball, I already knew without needing to look that the goalkeeper would be off his line, so I caught him by surprise. I had earlier told [teammate] Ali Rabo that the goalkeeper was off his line all game and I would score this goal.”
Filipino side Ceres had previously won all five of their matches to win Group G with a game to spare, but began with their strongest line-up as they aimed to make it a perfect six victories from six.
But after claiming just a point from their opening two games – which included a 3-1 home defeat to Ceres on Matchday Two – Becamex had won their previous three matches and went into the fixture in fine form following a 3-1 victory over Indonesia’s Persija Jakarta two weeks ago.
The late win now sees Becamex join Ceres, domestic rivals Hanoi FC and Indonesia’s PSM Makassar – who they will next play on June 19 – in an intriguing ASEAN Zonal semi-finals line-up.
"After scoring this important goal and keeping us in the AFC Cup, of course I feel very happy, “ said Luiz, who has played his club football in Vietnam since 2017.
“In the first half we were a bit defensive because we knew Ceres are a dangerous team. But in the second half we came out and attacked because we had to score and win the match. It was so important for us to get victory here and qualify for the next stage of the tournament.
“Ceres are a great team, but we tried really hard today and, in my opinion, we played very well. It's thanks to the whole team's performance that we are heading to the knockout stages of the tournament.”
It was not the first important goal Luiz had scored in the 2019 AFC Cup, with the forward’s late winner in a 2-1 away victory against Myanmar’s Shan United on Matchday Three securing a first win and eventually proving crucial.
He also netted in the 3-1 win over Persija on Matchday Five and now has four goals to his name, but it is his latest strike that will make him the toast of Thu Dau Mot City upon his return later on Thursday.
“All my teammates congratulated me,” added Luiz. “I'm very happy and so are all the players; this victory was everyone’s, we all played well.”
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Group F: Hanoi FC 2-0 Tampines Rovers FC
Group F: Yangon United FC 2-0 Naga World
Group H: Lao Toyota FC 0-3 PSM Makassar