Gamba Osaka vs JDT: A mammoth task awaits Malaysian giants
David vs Goliath
On paper, this looks like a mismatch. Malaysia Super League (MSL) outfit Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT), despite their blistering rise domestically and in the AFC Cup, have a mammoth task awaiting them in Japan in yet another significant moment for the Malaysian club.
The gap between Japan and Malaysia is so wide, not many would place a wager on an upset on the cards. No Southeast Asian side has progressed from the Champions League playoff since Singapore Armed Forces (now Warriors FC) defeated Muangthong United in 2010.
JDT defied the odds to defeat Bangkok United in the Preliminary Round 2 last week but Gamba Osaka are a different animal altogether. Sitting back, soaking in the pressure and hitting on the break, or snatching it in penalties will be the order of the day for Benjamin Mora’s side.
Gamba Osaka, who won the Champions League in 2008, finished runners-up in the J-League last year, the only time Kenta Hasegawa did not finish the season with any trophy.
The Southern Tigers would, however, be hoping the fact Gamba Osaka have not played a competitive match in 2017 would mean some rusty legs, but that is unlikely to be the case for the usually determined Japanese.
Gamba Osaka have a fresh squad to choose from as the J-League only commences in a fortnight.
JDT, however, have concerns of their own due to injuries and suspension.
Vice-captain Aidil Zafuan Abdul Radzak is still out, thus enabling Fadhli Shas another start in the heart of defence, but he may not partner the ever commanding Marcos Antonio as the Brazilian is doubtful.
The Malaysian club will also be without Jeronimo Barrales as the Argentinean new signing received his marching orders barely eight minutes after being brought on in extra-time against Bangkok United in the last round.
Brian Ferreira and Gonzalo Cabrera will lead the line up front, but at the back is where JDT could be spending most of their time on Tuesday.
Players to watch: Yosuke Ideguchi vs Safiq Rahim
JDT skipper Safiq Rahim will have to watch out for this Gamba starlet, who is making waves in Japan.
Ideguchi, at only 20, earned his first international call-up last November. He is yet to make his International debut but with age on his side, the central-midfielder could follow the footsteps of club-mate Yasuhito Endo, who is Japan’s highest capped player.
He was also named J-League’s Best Young Player in 2016.
Safiq, on the other hand, is Malaysia’s finest player of his generation and has a cabinet full of accolades – including the 2015 AFC Most Valuable Player.
The coaches: Kenta Hasegawa vs Benjamin Mora
It is still early days for Mora, who replaced Mario Gomez at JDT last month, but things seem to be working just fine so far.
Mora is still finding the right balance in the JDT line-up following several moves – including the departure of 2015’s star men Jorge Pereyra Diaz and Juan Martin Lucero.
His opposing number on Tuesday meanwhile has already established himself at Gamba since joining the then J2 side in 2013. He secured promotion in his first season by winning the second tier and in the following season took Japan by storm, winning the J-League and completing a domestic treble.
Facts and Figures
- History doesn't favour Southeast Asian countries in the playoff round but Thailand’s Burriram United stunned Brisbane Roars in 2013 while Chonburi came mighty close when they took Japan’s Kashiwa Reysol to extra time before losing 3-1 in 2015.
- JDT are the first Malaysian side to play in the Champions League playoff round. The club was unsuccessful in reaching this stage for the past two seasons.
- Gamba Osaka have not lost to a Southeast Asian side in the Champions League, winning eight out of their 10 matches.
Gamba Osaka 3 JDT 0. The visitors could be defending all day but Gamba are favourites to secure a convincing win nevertheless.