JDT stunned by Ceres-Negros sucker punch in AFC Cup semifinals
Ceres-Negros scored a controversial injury-time penalty through Fernando Rodriguez to send 10-man Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) crashing out of the AFC Cup after a 2-1 defeat in the second leg of their ASEAN zonal semifinal on Wednesday evening.
The referee's contentious decision sparked dramatic scenes which stretched stoppage time to 13 minutes, as the Philippines side prevailed on away goals after a 4-4 draw on aggregate.
Ceres will now face Singapore's Home United in the ASEAN zonal final over two legs in August.
Knowing his side had to be positive to go through, Benjamin Mora opted for an Argentine forward line of Gabriel Guerra and Gonzalo Cabrera, with the versatile Mahali Jasuli shadowing the duo.
Aidil Zafuan, meanwhile, returned to partner Marcos Antonio in defence against an unchanged Ceres side, who went down 3-2 in the first leg on May 17 at Larkin Stadium.
JDT asserted themselves against their opponents early on. Safiq Rahim had a low free kick comfortably saved by Ronald Muller in the Ceres goal.
But their possession superiority faded in the 26th minute, as the hosts took the lead with their first attack of the night.
Kevin Ingreso's inswinging free kick from the right wing was met with the deftest of touches from Kota Kawase. He did well to escape Antonio's attention, and steer the delivery past a static Farizal Marlias.
Spurred on by the goal, Ceres upped the tempo against JDT, who looked stung to recover swiftly.
Rodriguez had a header saved by Farizal on the half-hour mark before Jose Porteria launched an effort just wide of the post shortly after.
Rodriguez, who scored in the first leg, then had a great chance to double that lead. But he scooped his effort just over the bar after side-stepping Antonio.
Ahmad Hazwan Bakri and Safawi Rasid replaced Mahalli and Afiq Fazail after the break as Mora went in search of an equaliser which would have given JDT the advantage on aggregate.
Amirulhadi came close on the hour mark by dragging a shot just wide of Ronald's goal.
The equliser came from Guerra, who expertly took Cabrera's through ball in stride before rifling a low shot across Ronald into the bottom corner.
The forward's eighth goal of the competition also meant JDT led 4-3 on aggregate with 25 minutes left to play.
Ceres barely troubled the JDT goal until stoppage time. The referee pointed to the spot after deeming Aidil Zafuan had barged into Manuel Herrera from a corner.
Rodriguez calmly stepped up to send Farizal the wrong way, putting the home crowd into ecstasy.
The JDT keeper couldn't contain his frustration, and his protest earned him a red card.
It was a dismal ending for the 2015 champions, who went home with nothing after coming so close to securing progression away from home.
JDT: Farizal Marlias (GK), Fazly Mazlan, Aidil Zafuan, Marcos Antonio (C), Afiq Fazail (Safawi Rasid 62'), Fazly Mazlan, Gonzalo Cabrera (Shakir Saari 87'), Gabriel Guerra, Amirulhadi Zainal,S. Kunanlan, Mahali Jasuli (Ahmad Hazwan Bakri 45')
Ceres-Negros: Ronald Muller (GK), Kota Kawase (C), Manuel Herrera, Kevin Ingreso, Bienvenido Maranon (Carlos Martinez 75'), Manuel Ott, Fernando Rodriguez, Jose Porteria, Iain Ramsay, Martin Steuble, Jeffrey Christiaens
Nicolas Anil is a former Malay Mail and Goal.com Malaysia editor/writer who appears on BFM Radio as a football analyst. Twitter: @nicolas_anil.