OKBET AFC Football – A final flashback to when JDT became Malaysia’s first Asian champions
The Malaysia Super League team Kuala Lumpur City FC is in their first season of competing in the AFC CupTM, making their incredible run that much more remarkable.
If Bojan Hodak’s City Boys beat Al Seeb Club of Oman on October 22, they’d win the AFC Cup, becoming the first team from Malaysia to do it. Johor Darul Ta’zim won the title in 2015, with significant contributions from Hodak.
When Johor Darul Ta’zim narrowly beat Selangor for the league title on the final day of the 2014 season, it was the beginning of an era of unrivaled success for the team in Malaysian football. In the intervening eight years, JDT has won a total of 12 additional trophies, bringing its total number of major awards to 19.
However, their 2015 AFC Cup victory was perhaps their crowning achievement. JDT qualified for the tournament by winning their first domestic league title the year before under Hodak, and the continental competition served as a springboard for the ambitious club to establish itself as a formidable opponent not just in Japan but beyond Asia.
In 2009, as Johor FC, they had qualified for the AFC Cup despite having the worst record in their group, which also included South China of Hong Kong, PSMS Medan of Indonesia, and VB of the Maldives. They finished with five losses and a tie.
Johor returned to the competition in 2015 with a formidable squad that included several of Malaysia’s 2010 AFF (ASEAN Football Federation) Cup heroes, such as Safiq Rahim and Safee Sali, as well as quality international imports such as Hariss Harun, Luciano Figueroa, Leandro Velazquez, and Marcos Antonio.
Going unnoticed by the crowd at AFC CUP
Although the Johor team had some trouble with the increased competition in the 2009 tournament, they were full of hope going into the 2015 season with Croatian coach Hodak at the helm. They beat East Bengal of India 4-1 in their group stage opener at Tan Sri Dato’ Haji Hassan Yunos Stadium.
A left-footed free shot from Nazrin Nawi beat a diving Abhijit Mondal in the East Bengal goal nine minutes into the game. And then Safee scored the game-winning goal with a spectacular overhead kick, the first time the team had ever won.
After a 2-0 loss to Kitchee SC in Hong Kong in their second match, JDT got their vengeance with a 2-0 win against Kitchee SC in the rematch, with goals from Figueroa and Safiq.
When JDT returned to the tournament for their next encounter, Mario Gomez had taken over as head coach, replacing Hodak. On a rainy night in Kolkata, Johor beat East Bengal 1-0 thanks to an early own goal by Raju Gaikwad. With the win, Johor secured a spot in the round of 16. They finished first in their group after beating Balestier 3-0 in front of their home crowd in Johor.
A tiger’s roar is loudest in the last round of a fight
JDT’s first knockout round opponent was Myanmar’s Ayeyawady United, and the Southern Tigers easily defeated them 5-0, with Argentine superstar Figueroa and his compatriot Jorge Pereyra Diaz scoring twice each in the one-leg game in Johor.
However, a huge battle awaited them in the quarter-final – South China had reached the last eight after winning seven out of seven, coincidentally with Gomez at the helm up until he took over the JDT reins. JDT’s history was not on their favor, having conceded six goals in two defeats against the Hong Kong squad in 2009.
The approximately 15,000 people who assembled at the stronghold in southern Malaysia for the first leg may have witnessed their club being held at home for the first time, but they were not disappointed as the sides battled to a 1-1 draw, with Figueroa scoring from the penalty spot. The second leg at Mong Kok Stadium will decide everything.
JDT seized the lead again as Mahalli Jasuli shot in from the edge of the box, but the lead lasted only two minutes as Mahama Awal struck at the opposite end. Only two minutes had elapsed before Safee regained JDT’s lead with a straightforward tap in, but disaster struck the Malaysian team just before halftime when Figueroa was sent off.
However, Safee’s second goal of the game ensured that JDT became the first Malaysian team to reach the AFC Cup semi-finals. In the last four, up against holders Qadsia SC and without star combination Figueroa and Diaz, JDT lost to a 3-1 defeat in Kuwait City in the first leg, but Kuwait’s subsequent suspension from international football by FIFA ensured that the Southern Tigers went to the final.
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