It’s been an interesting week for Johor Darul Ta’zim, as they embarked on a whirlwind pre-season visit to Australia, with the Malaysian champions in Sydney and Melbourne for a four match tour.
They started in Sydney on Monday, where a pair of 4-1 drubbings at the hands of Uzbekistan and Palestine kicked off JDT’s experience Down Under, with both nations going full-tilt in their Asian Cup preparations.
The short trip south to Melbourne saw them take on Victorian State League sides Bentleigh Greens and Dandenong Thunder, to round off the turbulent period of fixtures.
Bentleigh Greens 1 Johor Darul Ta'zim 1
Their match against Bentleigh on Thursday night was streamed to a large audience across Asia and Australia, and those who tuned in witnessed a back and forth game in which both sides failed to assert their dominance over the contest.
Safee Sali had a good chance early to put his side ahead, but the veteran forward put his first time volley into the arms of Greens keeper Al Bray.
They were unfortunately made to pay as Bentleigh struck an opener in the eighth minute, courtesy of former A-League defender Luke Pilkington’s tap in.
A wicked corner was flicked on at the near post for the Australian club, and Pilkington was on hand to accept a gift of a goal, side footing an effort into the roof of the net.
JDT enjoyed their fair share of the ball in the first half, but were unable to make it count, with Nazrin Nawi looking particularly threatening on the wing.
The touring club were on the back foot early in the second term, as Amer Saidin – who also had an impressive game – made a last ditch goal-line clearance to keep his side within touching distance.
It proved to be telling as Johor found a 69th minute equalizer on the break through Amri Yahyah.
Their star midfielder shocked the home crowd as he waltzed through unopposed on the right wing, delicately chipping the Bentleigh custodian before wheeling away in celebration.
Dandenong Thunder 2 Johor Darul Ta'zim 2
The side from Johor had the chance to back up their spirited 1-1 draw with Bentleigh, by pitting themselves up against Dandenong Thunder, also of the Victorian NPL (the top division of state league football).
The goals were in ample supply in a busy second half at Kingston Heath Soccer Complex in Melbourne, with four goals shared between the two sides.
While the Asian Cup kicked off only a half hour drive away from where JDT were playing, the Malaysians were kicking off in a different fashion, as they raced to a 2-0 lead, scoring two goals within the space of as many minutes.
Argentinian forward Jorge Pereyra Diaz was bundled over inside the area by defender Ramazan Tavsancioglu, and the referee was left with little doubt in his mind, pointing to the penalty spot in the 51st minute.
Fellow countrymen Luciano Figueroa was left with the task from 12-yards and he made no mistake, passing the ball low into the corner of the net.
Their second – almost directly from Dandenong's kick-off – was counter attacking football at its finest, as goal scorer Figueroa started a slick passing play, spraying the ball wide before receiving a perfect return ball.
The South American showed flair to flick the ball off to Diaz inside the area, who played his part in the goal by squaring unselfishly to teammate Suppiah Chanturu who hammered home emphatically from right in front.
It took a moment of brilliance for Dandenong to get back into the game, and it came through Abdul Rahman, whose world class out swinging shot had Al-Hafiz Hamzah clawing at thin air as the ball climbed into the top corner, off the crossbar and into the net.
The equaliser came in similarly impressive fashion as Irish midfielder Alan Kearney stunningly curled a free-kick around the wall, whipping the ball between keeper and post for a memorable second.
The draw – while disappointing in the circumstances – was a fair way to end their tour Down Under, with the visiting party running away with two draws against the Australian sides as well as a pair of spirited losses against world-class national team outfits.
Their eyes now remain firmly on the Malaysia Charity Shield showdown with Pahang FA, before their all-important AFC Champions League play-off against Indian side Bengaluru FC.
Photos: Skip Fulton