AFC Cup talking points: JDT issue warning to rest of Asia

Defending AFC Cup winners Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) annihilated Ayeyawady United 8-1 in their Group H opener at the Larkin Stadium. Vijhay Vick makes some observation from the one-sided clash. 

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Safiq Rahim, the hat-trick hero

The 2015 AFC Cup most valuable player did not have the luxury of having Singapore international Hariss Harun bossing the midfield alongside him as Amirul Hadi Zainal was a surprise starter in the engine room.

As a result, the club and country skipper had to take on a more defensive role in the early stages of the match but he soon capitalised on a weak Ayeyawady midfield to push ahead and plundered in three goals.

His first — the match’s opener in the fifth minute — left goalkeeper Vanlal Hruai rooted to the spot and his second-half strikes were well-placed shots to put JDT 5-1 up with a third of the game left.

Safiq was back to his best as his hat-trick inspired JDT's rout of Ayeyawady. Photo:

Juan Martin Lucero opens his goal account

The Argentine’s capture was of great attention to many as he was brought in to replace a Malaysia Super League (MSL) proven poacher in Paulo Rangel, who was later shipped off to JDT II despite being a new signing himself.

FourFourTwo received positive reviews from those who watched the 24-year-old’s trained just days after his arrival, but four games went by without any goals. Lucero even missed a penalty in the FA Cup win over UiTM last week.

It had seemed as though it would be another barren night for the striker as Lucero enjoyed limited opportunities despite JDT having countless of shots at goal.

READ ALSO: Profiling Lucero, the bomber set to blitz Malaysian rearguards

Even when the perfect opportunity presented itself on a plate for him, Lucero could only direct a free header towards the goalkeeper.

But the Argentine finally earned reprieve when he scored with a composed top-corner finish in the 82nd minute.

Clearly, opening his accounts boosted his confidence level as five minutes later, Lucero scored JDT’s seventh of the night.

Rotation keeps 'em fresh

After the opening MSL match against Selangor, JDT coach Mario Gomez told the press he would be rotating his players to keep them in their best condition to battle all fronts.

The coach has kept to his word and may soon be known as a tinkerman, but his men unsurprisingly look fresh every time they step onto the pitch.

JDT swapped their wingers from the big FA Cup win out and it bore fruits as stand-ins Nazrin Nawi and Mahali Jasuli were constantly menaces on the flanks.

However, Gomez does not rotate his back four as much as they lack options there. At least in this department, you can count on the likes of Fazly Mazlan, Antonio, Aidil and Kunanlan to act as the consistent backbone of the team.

Gomez has made full use of JDT's strength in depth this season. Photo:

Offside? Hand ball?

Ayeyawady will feel aggrieved that both Marcos Antonio and Lucero’s controversial goals were allowed to stand.

Firstly, should Antonio’s goal have been chalked off? The ball had taken a massive deflection off centre-back partner Aidil Zafuan, who was in an offside position when Antonio headed the ball home. JDT did deserve the huge victory but maybe not so for this goal.

In another incident, Ayeyawady players were given a telling off for protesting against Lucero’s second goal, claiming he had handled the ball.

Television replays did show the ball bouncing off Lucero’s arms after he lifted it over Hruai, but he may argue it was more of a ball-to-hand situation.

Photo: Johor Darul Ta'zim