Johor Darul Ta'zim will face another test in their AFC Cup title defence and Kaya coach Chris Greatwich believes his side has the right strategy to take down the Southern Tigers...
Kaya is best known in Malaysia as a popular substance best described as coconut jam. On Wednesday evening however, if Chris Greatwich gets his way at the home of Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) then the sweet spread meant for bread may have a rival.
Playing the holders of the competition, leaders of the Malaysia Super League with a star-studded squad in a one-off game in front of a big and noisy home crowd, the odds are against the visitors.
Greatwich believes however that his team can spring a surprise, and he insisted it wouldn’t even be a shock if they did so.
“People will think it is a shock,” Kaya coach Chris Greatwich told FourFourTwo. “ But I genuinely believe that if we implement the right gameplan and we play to our ability then we can win.”
“Sure, they are going to be favourites, they have some fantastic players. I have played against half of that team but if the boys embrace the occasion, the big stadium and the great pitch and if we get our tactics right then anything is possible. We are known for dealing with adversity pretty well and we come through against the odds.”
Football in the Philippines has come on leaps and bounds since the 32 year-old made his debut for the country. Part of the team shocked the region, and their own country, by reaching the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup semi-final.
Much has changed since and now FIFA ranks the Philippines the highest in the ASEAN region.
The improvements have come at club level too. This year, the United Football League did what counterparts in Malaysia and Singapore could not in the AFC Cup and got both representatives through the group stage.
The AFC Cup has changed all that. With the games broadcasted live on television, Kaya and Ceres are not only helping to raise the reputation of Philippines football around Asia, but at home too.
“Traditionally in the Philippines we get behind the national team and supported them but never had that feeling about club football here, it's not the same thing,” Greatwich said.
“It has captured the imagination of the public here within the football community which is still quite small here but it is progress.”
After numerous spells as interim coach at Kaya, the Lond0n-born tactician took the reins permanently in November. Winning the UFL Cup gave access to Asia.
“I was quietly confident we could make it out of the group when the draw was made. I knew Kitchee were favourites but I felt we could win our home games and nick a draw away,” he added.
“I also felt we could finish above Balestier and New Radiant. I set a target of ten points and that was the case.”
For Greatwich, the pleasing aspect was the improvement of the team over the stage.
A 1-0 loss at Kitchee in the opening game was encouraging. Then came back-to-back wins over Balestier and New Radiant to propel Kaya into second place in the group, and subsequently the last 16, where JDT laid in wait.
For some, the draw away to the reigning champions was not the best of rewards. Greatwich welcomes the opportunity however.
“It may be the draw of death but I don't see it that way,” he said, “We want to be here. The one regret is that it is a one-off game with the two-legged format starting at the quarter-final stage.
“We showed in the group stage. Defensively we are very resolute and conceded just two goals. One was a dubious penalty and the other was a freakish set piece. We worked very hard collectively.
We have a strong work ethic and are well-organised. We have been a little unfortunate in terms that teams we played against shut up against us and made it difficult to break them down. It is hard when they park the bus.”
It will be the opposite situation at the Larkin Stadium. Kaya's problem will be stopping the Malaysians' attacking talents.
Main Photo: Kaya