Johor Darul Ta’zim took a giant step towards defending their regional title after after seeing off South China 2-1 in Larkin to win the AFC Cup quarter-final 3-2 on aggregate.
The Southern Tigers edged the Hong Kong side 2-1 but Mario Gomez’s men could have recorded a much bigger win after rattling the crossbar three times in addition to a missed penalty.
“We lost a lot of chances but it’s okay. What’s important is to create those chances and win at the end of the day. I think we could have won by more goals,” said Gomez in a pitch side television interview.
“We are through to the next round and must enjoy ourselves in the competition. We can reach the final but there are two matches to go.
They are tired fighting for another Cup after winning three already this year, but we have good players and they understand that the AFC Cup is important.
“The mental attributes of the players are important. They are tired … they have to fight for another Cup after winning three already this year. We have good players and they understand that the AFC Cup is important.”
South China, however, will feel hard done after Safiq Rahim escaped a sending off for stamping on visiting goalkeeper Tsang Man Fai and elbowing Law Hiu Chung in the first half.
The visiting club felt justice was somewhat served after Man Fai saved Safiq’s penalty five minutes after the break but the tie swung in JDT’s favour after South China were forced to replace Ghanaian-born midfielder Wisdom Agbo in the 52nd minute.
Just five minutes after the change, Chan Wai Ho’s deflection took Juan Martin Lucero’s shot away from Tsang and into the back of the net, sending the fans delirious.
Fazly Mazlan and Azinee Taib could have put the match beyond doubt in the following minutes but their efforts, from outside the box and just a few feet away from goal, hit the crossbar. Azamuddin Akil had also rattled the woodwork in the first half.
South China were relentless in their bid to push the match into extra-time but struggled to break free from JDT’s tight defence.
Jorge Pereyra Diaz put the match beyond doubt after heading in a Safiq corner from a tight angle in the 88th minute.
The visitors pulled one back through Nikola Komazec after capitalising on Marcos Antonio’s poor back pass in the final minute of the five-minute stoppage time, but it proved to be a mere consolation.
JDT await the winner of the Tampines-Bengaluru tie on Wednesday.
The Indian side take a 1-0 lead to Singapore but Akbar Nawas’ men are keen on ensuring a Causeway battle against the defending champions in the semi-final.
JDT host the first leg of the AFC Cup semi-final on September 28 and the return leg takes place on October 19.