JDT crowned AFC Cup champions

Record-breaking Johor Darul Ta’zim efficiently disposed of Tajikistan league champions Istiklol 1-0 in their own backyard in the AFC Cup final on Saturday, becoming the first Southeast Asian club to win the trophy.

JDT skipper Safiq Rahim – who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player – and Singaporean international Hariss Harun in central midfield were integral as Mario Gomez’s men stormed to a historic win at the Pamir Stadium in the Tajikistan capital of Dushanbe.

Argentine midfielder Leandro Velazquez popped into the box with a low strike in the 23rd minute to capitalise on a weak clearance from the Istiklol defence to silence the home crowd.

I’m proud that we have this victory. We created history for Malaysian football

- Mario Gomez

That would prove the only goal of the game as the Malaysia Super League champions added another trophy to their cabinet.

JDT rode their luck, with Istiklol having three goals disallowed, on a breakthrough night for Malaysian football.

“I am happy with our victory,” Safiq told the AFC website after the game. “We made great work together with our teammates and coaching staff.

“It’s great for me that I’ve been chosen MVP for the tournament, but the most important thing is the team and the trophy.

“Both teams put on a good game, but we kept our focus until the end of the match and we won the AFC Cup.”

The Southern Tigers’ AFC Cup journey has been remarkable, breaking a series of Malaysian milestones along the way.

Safiq was named tournament MVP

The club was the first from Malaysia to even reach the semi-finals of the competition, with the trophy now heading to Larkin, where the Johor revolution begun at the end of 2012.

With Crown Prince of Johor Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim behind the team, it is unlikely the club will be content with their achievements. The AFC Champions League will surely now be their ultimate goal.

Istiklol controlled many parts of the game, with their ball movement and pressure regularly putting JDT on the back foot.

But the visitors had put plenty of work into their defensive line and were able to resolutely keep Istiklol at bay.

Marcos Antonio, who FourFourTwo listed as the key player of the game, was a rock in the heart of defence, as  was his partner Aidil Zafuan Abdul Radzak, while the absence of Junior Eldstal and Fadhli Shas did not unsettle the back four.

The home side thought it had taken the lead when Khurshed Mahmudov's effort hit the back of the net in the 14th minute, only for play to be called back for an earlier infringement.

Istiklol raised their game further in the second half, with Manuchehr Dzhalilov running to the fans to celebrate a goal in the 51st minute, only to see it ruled out for being offside.

Victorious JDT coach Mario Gomez

Dzhalilov then forced Farizal Marlias into an acrobatic save and JDT thanked their lucky stars that yet another goal in the dying seconds was ruled offside as the Southern Tigers held on.

“Our goalkeeper and our defenders played well when Istikol created pressure,” Gomez said afterwards.

“I think the players followed their instructions well and I’m proud that we have this victory. We created history for Malaysian football in the AFC Cup. We worked a lot and claimed the trophy.

“It was a good match and a great atmosphere in the stadium. Istiklol showed their attacking football. They had some chances in the first minutes, but we changed the game after it.

“We used our corner kicks in important moments and the goal gave us more trust and we began to play better. Istiklol tried to score in the second half. This is why we paid attention to counterattacks.”

Photos: WSG