The Philippines side lost 3-2 to the S.League champions on Sunday evening but remain serious contenders for the prize following their first-leg dismantling of their opponents.
They may be making their Singapore Cup debut this season, but Ceres La Salle are not in it just to make up the numbers.
The Philippines side were not entirely convincing in their preliminary round victory against the Garena Young Lions, but they have proven their mettle in the quarter-final triumph over Brunei DPMM.
An impressive 3-0 first-leg win on Thursday ultimately proved decisive for their progress to the semi-finals, rendering a 3-2 defeat in the return leg moot at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Sunday night.
Their performances over both legs left head coach Ali Bernard Go upbeat enough to declare their Cup-winning ambitions, even with juggernauts Tampines Rovers next up.
“Whenever we play a tournament we are always trying to win it,” he asserted. “When we were invited to play here, we knew it would be tough… but with the squad we have, we have to aim for the top. Definitely, we want to be champions.”
The former Philippines international was also happy enough with his charges despite throwing away a two-goal lead, noting they had suspensions to key players.
“A win would have been good but qualifying is our job,” he asserted. “I think we finished our job well in the first leg; second leg, we tried our best… With [Paulo] Sergio coming in [for DPMM], a very skillful player, they were going to fight until the end.”
DPMM needed the early goal but it was their opponents who got it instead on 16 minutes. A deep cross from right-back Jalsor Soriano to the far post took out the S.League side’s defence, leaving Jeffrey Christiaens to cushion a header back into the area.
The ball was met by Stephan Schröck, whose ruthless volley whistled past a rooted Wardun Yussof. It was the Ceres’ talisman’s 16th goal in a scoring streak that extended to eight games.
Azwan Ali then sidefooted over from a promising position, but the truth was that DPMM rarely threatened and the tie looked over when they conceded a second on 53 minutes.
With everyone expecting a cross from Bienvenido Morejon, the Spanish forward instead caught out Wardun with a delicate chip from 18 yards for one of the goals of the tournament.
But the celebrations had not died down when DPMM unexpectedly pegged them back barely 60 seconds later.
Picked out in the box, substitute Azwan Salleh held off two defenders for Shahrazen Said to smash the ball in from six yards. Just like that, the Wasps suddenly hit a higher gear and looked a different side.
Rafael Ramazotti forced Louis Casas into an excellent save but was not to be denied for long, powering in Adi’s cross on 63 minutes to level the game.
Another goal arrived on 90 minutes as Brian McLean guided in Sergio’s free-kick with his head, though it was too late for it to matter.
Their second-half response did give DPMM boss Steve Kean cause for optimism and he hoped it will give the local players more confidence in their abilities.
“It’s mostly [about] belief,” he pointed out. “I think at times when we go behind in a game, we question ourselves too much.
“The local players need to believe in themselves; both times, we gave them too much respect… we’ve showed in both legs we could compete.
“We are good enough to win games and in the later part of the S.League and certainly in the League Cup.”
The Scot also believed that Ceres, whom he described as “very good”, could cause Tampines problems.
“Certainly; they are a different outfit from most of the teams in the S.League,” he noted. “They’ve won a lot [this season], their confidence is high and they expect to win; I think it will be an excellent game.”