Bangkok United vs JDT: Malaysia’s Jewel of the South face a daunting trip up north
JDT’s moment of truth.
Having been knocked out of the competition by Thai Premier League (TPL) sides in the past two seasons, JDT will know what to expect when they visit Bangkok United in Pathum Thani for a place in the Champions League playoff.
The Southern Tigers have been ever-dominant in Malaysia in recent years and defied the odds to win the 2015 AFC Cup, but the Champions League – elusive thus far – is where JDT aspire to be playing in.
JDT, however, could find it tough once more as they come against a side who finished second in the TPL last year.
Bangkok United’s recent 4-3 win over top Japanese side and 2016 FIFA Club World Cup runners-up Kashima Antlers in a pre-season friendly may strike fear into the visitors.
JDT, who suffered two losses in Thailand during pre-season earlier in January, warmed up to the tie with a 3-1 win over 2016 Malaysia Super League (MSL) runners-up Felda United but Bangkok United will provide a greater test, especially considering new coach Benjamin Mora and import trio – Brian Ferreira, Gonzalo Cabrera and Jerónimo Barrales – are still finding their rhythm.
The match comes barely two weeks after JDT replaced Mario Gomez, a key figure in the club’s 2015 and 2016 success, with JDT II coach Mora.
The hosts have a clean slate of health while JDT centre-back Aidil Zafuan Abdul Radzak could miss out again after sitting out of the Felda win on Friday following an injury in the MSL opener against Kedah.
Fadhli Shas could deputise but Mora also has options in Junior Eldstal and 19-year-old Dominic Tan.
S. Kunanlan is expected to return to line-up after serving a one-match suspension while Azamuddin Akil could get another start on the right flank. Among the other contenders for the right-wing role include R. Gopinathan, Ahmad Hazwan Bakri and Azrif Nasrulhaq.
Players to watch: Brian Ferreira vs Mario Gjurovski
Brian Ferreira’s Iraqi passport allowed JDT to sacrifice Singapore international Hariss Harun and it has proved worthwhile so far.
JDT are looking at Ferreira to provide creativity and pull the strings on the pitch like how Luciano Figueroa and Jorge Pereyra Diaz did over the past two years. He opened his accounts for the club against Felda.
Mario Gjurovski will feature for Bangkok United. Into his second season at club, the Macedonian was key to the club’s rise in 2016 after his surprise move from Muangthong United, where he had scored over 70 goals in four seasons.
The attacking midfielder is the one JDT need to keep close watch on and deny space if they were to stand a chance of progressing on Tuesday.
The coaches: Benjamin Mora vs Alexandre Polking
Both coaches have one thing in common. They are young coaches with many years ahead of them. Polking turns 41 in March while Mora is three years younger.
Mora took charge of JDT after the club shockingly announced they were parting ways with Mario Gomez this month because they wanted to add variety to the squad.
He is, however, no stranger in Johor following his stint with JDT II in 2016. JDT sent Mora on a month-long attachment with Atletico Madrid in December.
His opposite number on Tuesday has been in Thailand since 2012, first as Winfried Schafer’s assistant in the national team before later taking charge of Army United in 2013. He then had a brief spell at Suphanburi before joining Bangkok United in June 2014.
Facts and figures
JDT lost to Thai clubs Bangkok Glass and Muangthong United in their previous two attempts to reach the Champions League playoff round, though they took the latter to penalties.
JDT have not won on their travels (continental matches only) since a 2-1 win over Ayeyawady in the AFC Cup in April.
The visitors have not won on penalties since knocking Selangor out of the FA Cup in 2013, going on to lose the following four shootouts – including the recent the Sultan Ahmad Shah Cup to Kedah.
Bangkok United 3 JDT 1. It is a match too soon for Mora and the news imports, the difference could be telling.