AFC Cup Talking Points: Welcome to The Safiq Rahim show

Club and country skipper Safiq Rahim came off the bench to fire defending champions Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) to a 3-0 win over Laos’ Lao Toyota, putting the Southern Tigers in pole position in Group H. 

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Malaysians have a gem in Safiq

This 28-year-old is playing the best football of his life, showing tremendous improvement to the form that propelled him into the Southeast Asian spotlight at the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup.

There hasn’t been a better Malaysian central midfielder this decade and Safiq Rahim only seems to be improving.

Safiq, who picked up the Malaysian and AFC Cup most valuable player awards last year, is taking the AFC Cup by storm after netting his fifth and sixth goal of this year’s edition on Wednesday.

Safiq did not start against Lao but added to their midfield’s bite after coming on in the second half, after what had been a rather drab affair between the two teams.

His first penalty conversion gave JDT the lead and his second, a sublime chip over Vathana Keodouangdeth in the 74th minute, just showed the confidence in him.

Where does Amri Yahyah gets his energy from?

Surely, he does not have long lasting rechargeable Energizer batteries. At 35, peers his age are either slowing down or have retired.

Amri Yahyah basking in the adulation of the crowd after scoring. Photo: Johor Darul Ta'zim

Yet, Amri Yahyah is still at the top of his game and is an integral part of the national team too.  So much so, he might as well be called Malaysia’s Benjamin Button.

The once-Selangor hero still lasts the full 90 minutes and this was never more evident than when he put the ball between Keodouangbeth’s leg in stoppage time, before going on to take a breather on the advertisement boards as part of his celebrations.

Amri may not have many years left in him, but he could not have asked for a better place to prolong his career. JDT’s rotation policy allows Amri to get the right amount of games to stay fresh and hungry.

Fabulous back-four

JDT coach Mario Gomez is fond of utilising the depth of his squad but how many times has he changed his back-four? The answer is just once – in the FA Cup third round against Negri Sembilan a fortnight ago.

But then again, the quartet of Fazly Mazlan, Marcos Antonio, Aidil Zafuan Abdul Radzak and S. Kunanlan have given Gomez little or no reason to tinker with the backline at all.

The quartet have only leaked in four goals in ten games across all competitions and Gomez has looked reluctant in rotating his back-four despite applying a rotation policy to his midfield and attack.

Even the likes of Safiq, Singapore skipper Hariss Harun, Jorge Pereyra Diaz and Juan Martin Lucero do not start as often as JDT’s back-four.

Should Lao have gone a man down too?

JDT’s first penalty, which came following Takahiro Saito’s hand ball in the 61st minute, was fiercely contested by the visitors as they felt it was a hand to ball incident.

There is no doubt the hand-ball prevented Safee Sali’s header from giving JDT the lead but was a red card warranted?

The header struck Saito’s elbow, which was tucked in and the defender was looking away from the ball.

While a penalty was a fair considering it prevented a clear-cut goal, the sending off may have been harsh.

There were, however, little questions asked when S. Kunanlan received his marching orders following a second yellow card in the 70th minute.

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