Marcos Antonio and Luciano Figueroa were on target as Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) defeated Pahang at the Tan Sri Dato Haji Hassan Yunos Stadium to win the 2015 Charity Cup and grab the first three points of the season.
The victory was the Super League champions’ first win in six attempts against the Malaysia Cup and FA Cup double winners.
Handing debuts to three of his new signings – Farizal Marlias, S. Kunanlan and Junior Eldstal – JDT head coach Bojan Hodak started the match with an unorthodox back four with Junior at centre-back, Fadhli Shas at left-back and S. Kunanlan at right-back.
That unconventional move paid off, as Pahang were devoid of ideas going forward in the first half with Matias Conti and Dickson Nwakaeme being rendered ineffective by the Marcos-Junior partnership.
Besides that, Pahang winger R. Gopinathan, one of the best players in the league last season, was marked out of the game by makeshift full-back Kunanlan.
The Johor club, on the other hand, had a lion’s share of possession and were on the attack all the time.
They could have the lead as early as the seventh minute when Safiq Rahim’s corner found Junior unmarked in the box, but the former Sarawak man could only head it over the bar.
Jorge Pereyra Díaz and Mahali Jasuli then wasted the next few chances before Marcos opened the scoring for JDT in the 36th minute.
A Hariss Harun’s weak header off a corner kick found the Brazilian defender, who headed past the 2014 Best Goalkeeper, Khairul Azhan Khalid.
With the half-time whistle looming, JDT almost doubled their lead when Figueroa beat the Pahang custodian with a shot outside the box, but his effort hit the goal frame.
After the break, the Elephants looked more threatening, but it was still all JDT as they continued where they let off in the first half.
The Southern Tigersas resumed their attacking onslaught at Pahang with Figueroa threatening the away goalmouth twice in the space of a minute, but his efforts were blocked.
However, he would not be denied on his next attempt as he powered a header into the back of the net from a corner kick to make it 2-0 for his club.
Farizal, who was having an easy evening, was finally called into action in the final 15 minutes as Pahang looked to salvage something from the match.
The former Selangor goalie had to punch away a dangerous cross by Nwakaeme in the 77th minute and rush out of his position in the 80th minute to clear the ball before the Nigerian striker could attempt a shot.
With minutes remaining, JDT ought to have scored a few more goals due to their quick counter-attacks, but they wasted their goal-scoring opportunities time and time again.
Luckily for them, they were not punished by their profligacy and managed to hang on for the win.