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 By Paul Murphy

Former La Liga keeper Toni Doblas to join Ceres-Negros in Philippines

Former Real Betis and Napoli goalkeeper Toni Doblas is set to join Philippines Football League (PFL) champions Ceres-Negros for the 2018 season.

Doblas appeared to confirm the move on his Twitter account by sharing a message congratulating him on the transfer, following an earlier message where he hinted that he was on his way to the Philippines.

The Spaniard played for several seasons in La Liga, first with Betis and then with Real Zaragoza, before beginning travels which have taken him from Azerbaijan to the Philippines via Italy, Finland and India.

At the peak of his career in Spain, Doblas lifted the 2005 Copa Del Rey as Betis won 2-1 in the final against an Osasuna side that featured former Socceroo John Aloisi and was managed by ex-Japan boss Javier Aguirre.

The following season, he played UEFA Champions League football with the Spaniards as they came third in their group behind holders Liverpool and English champions Chelsea.

Nine years later, he was an unused substitute in the Coppa Italia final when Rafa Benitez's Napoli won the trophy with a 3-1 victory over Fiorentina.

Doblas had been short-term signing for Napoli after an injury to Rafael Cabral, the club's second-choice goalkeeper at the time.

Since then, he has played for short spells with several clubs, including HJK Helsinki, Delhi Dynamos and various lower division Spanish teams.

Now 37, Doblas seems to have opted to continue his career with his first move to Southeast Asia.

Toni Doblas played 94 times in La Liga for Real Zaragoza and Real Betis.

He is likely to replace Roland Muller, the regular goalkeeper for the Philippines national side, whose departure from Ceres has been confirmed.

He will be joining a side that enjoyed a very successful 2017, not only winning the inaugural PFL championship but also reaching the AFC Cup Inter-zone playoff semifinal.

Ceres defeated Malaysia's Johor Darul Ta'zim and Singapore's Home United before succumbing to Tajikistan's FC Istiklol.

One of Doblas' first challenges will be to try and help his new club defeat Myanmar's Shan United in the first preliminary round of the AFC Champions League on Jan. 16.

Victory in that tie would earn them a trip to Australia where Doblas could again come up against Aloisi, who is now head coach of A-League side, Brisbane Roar.

An unlikely win over the Roar would lead to a playoff against Tianjin Quanjian in China but a more likely scenario will be that they compete in the AFC Cup again, where they will meet Home United and probably Shan United once more.

Although Doblas' best days might be behind him, Ceres will be looking to him to bring a big-game mentality to the club as they attempt to surpass the achievements of 2017.

Bangkok-based Paul Murphy has lived in Asia for a decade, writing for ESPN FC since 2014. He is a former Daily Express sub-editor. @PaulMurphyBKK


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