Match Previews

JDT Preview: Upping the ante to impossible standards

How do you follow a third successive league title that was won without losing a game? That is the question that Johor Darul Ta'zim will have to answer in the 2017 Malaysia Super League season. 

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For one of the team's many stars S. Kunanlan, it is simple: keeping making history at home and qualify for the Asian Champions League for the first time.

Last season saw the Southern Tigers duke it out with Felda United for much of the campaign before pulling away at the end for championship number three.

The bad news for the rest of the league is that the right-back insists the team is just as hungry as it ever was.

We can win four in a row, nothing is impossible. If we give our full effort and make sure that we are 100% focused for every game then we can do it

- S.Kunanlan

“We can win four in a row,” Kunanlan told FourFourTwo. “Nothing is impossible. If we give our full effort and make sure that we are 100% focused for every game then we can do it.”

Just as it was for most teams preparing for the new season, there have been plenty of comings and goings at the Larkin.

The most significant is the departure of Argentine attackers Jorge Pereyra Diaz and Juan Martin Lucero. The deadly duo combined for 34 goals in the league last season.

“We will miss Diaz and Lucero,” admitted the 30-year-old. “They were the best striker combination, not only in the Malaysia Super League but in the AFC Cup too.”

He is confident however that the new imports from Argentina Brian Ferreira and Gonzalo Cabrera will be able to do the business.

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Gonzalo Cabrera is one of the new faces at Larkin

There have been other big-name departures. Amri Yahyah has joined newly-promoted Melaka United while Singapore captain Hariss Harun is expected to be loaned out to a club in Japan or Portugal.

Kunanlan is ready for a fierce challenge from 2016 runners-up Felda United and Kedah, who finished third before taking the Malaysia Cup, but is sure that the team can handle anything the rest of the league throws their way.

“We know that when teams play against JDT, all of their players give 100%,” said the defender who retired from the national team in 2016. “They know that we are a big and strong team and they give everything against us and every game is a tough one.”

But the former Malaysia international declined to single out a single threat to a fourth title. “We can't take it easy against any one team,” he said.

JDT prepared for the new season with a camp in Thailand which is fitting as perhaps the team's biggest game of the year comes in the Land of Smiles at the end of January. For the last two seasons the Malaysian title-holders have lost Asian Champions League play-offs against Thai opposition. This time, Bangkok United are the hosts.

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Kunanlan is targeting for more success with JDT

Win that and the Malaysians travel to Japan for a tricky final play-off with 2008 champions Gamba Osaka.

The big prize of the biggest club competition in the continent is so close yet so far away. JDT won the 2015 AFC Cup and reached the semi-final of the 2016 version. Now it is time for the big one.

“The AFC Champions League is the highest level of football in Asia. It is very important for JDT but also for my career. We can make history as the first team from Malaysia to participate in the tournament.”

"That is our first target, to qualify for the Champions League. After that we will take it game-by-game in the Super League and the FA Cup.”

Despite all the success, it is evident there is still plenty of ambition and hunger at Johor Darul Ta'zim.