Johor Darul Ta’zim vs Persija Jakarta: Southern Tigers aiming to bounce back and make AFC Cup statement
The start of a long continental road and a test of JDT’s credentials
Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) and Indonesian club Persija Jakarta are seeking to start their respective campaigns with a win after Group H of the AFC Cup began on Saturday, with Vietnamese club Song Lam Nghe An defeating Tampines Rovers 2-0 in Singapore.
The result threw any thought of invincibility out the window and Persija will be keen to inflict more damage on the home side
Persija, who have their own passionate supporters group ‘The Jakmania’, similar to JDT’s ‘Boys of Straits’, are competing in the tournament for the first time while the Southern Tigers won it back in 2015.
JDT will be out to avenge last year’s disappointment of being knocked out by Filipino side Ceres Negros in the ASEAN Zonal semi-final.
Ulisses Morais’s men, who are in the AFC Cup for the fourth season running, turned their attention to the competition after suffering a 5-2 defeat to Thailand’s Muangthong United in the AFC Champions League qualifier on January 23.
The club has welcomed back Hariss Harun, Jorge Pereyra Diaz and Luciano Figueroa – among their best imports in previous years – and retained 2017 key figure Gonzalo Cabrera, but any thoughts of another unbeaten Malaysia Super League (MSL) campaign were quickly quashed by Kuala Lumpur in Cheras on Sunday.
The newly promoted side defeated the MSL giants 1-0 in a match that was abandoned on Saturday with over half an hour to play due to a waterlogged pitch, with the remaining time completed the following day.
The result threw any thought of invincibility out the window and Persija will be keen to inflict more damage on the home side.
The Indonesian club finished fourth in the 2017 Indonesia Liga 1 and qualified for the AFC Cup because of the ineligibility of two teams above them in the standings – Bhayangkara and PSM Makassar – due to their failure to obtain an AFC Licence.
Liga 1 has yet to begin but Persija have enough match fitness because of the pre-season President’s Cup, with teams having played five matches already over the past three weeks.
While helping Persija’s match fitness, the President’s Cup may come at a cost as they defeated PSMS Medan 1-0 in the successful semi-final second leg on Monday, progressing 5-1 on aggregate, just two days before their visit to Larkin.
While coach Stefano Cugurra will surely make some changes, he is unlikely to name a completely changed 11 and that could mean some tired legs on the pitch in Johor Bahru on Wednesday.
Having seen their weekend league match stretched over two days, JDT are not in the best position either, although they do have a large squad of talented players to call upon.
Their fringe players have been getting playing time for JDT II too under new development club regulations in Malaysia.
The Southern Tigers have not announced which of their foreigners they’ve left out for the AFC Cup as the competition only allows four compared to the five permitted in the MSL, but Marcos Antonio is tipped to miss out.
The Brazilian defender has returned from a long-term injury but he is still not ready to play week in, week out.
Singapore international Hariss could fill in defensively if needed, a move the club has utilised in the past.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Jorge Pereyra Diaz: The 2016 MSL top-scorer proved difficult to replace for the Southern Tigers and his return spells dangers for their opponents. Diaz can win matches on his own with his dribbles, trickery and shots on goal, meaning Persija cannot afford to let him out of their sight.
Marko Simic: He shouldn’t pose any surprise to JDT considering he played for Negeri Sembilan and Melaka United in 2017, but the Croatian is a good forward with an eye for goal. His goals kept Melaka in the MSL last season and he has started firing for the Indonesians, scoring five goals in the President’s Cup already.
FACTS AND FIGURES
- While JDT lost at home when they competed in this tournament back in 2009, when they were still known as Johor FC, they haven’t tasted defeat on home soil once since returning to this stage in 2015. Their last home defeat in all competitions dates back to a Malaysia Cup loss to Felda United in 2015.
- Only South China (2015) and Bengaluru (2016) have avoided an AFC Cup defeat in Larkin in that time, both managing 1-1 draws.
- JDT scored 16 goals and conceded just three in the four home AFC Cup matches in 2017.
- Persija and Bali United are the first Indonesian clubs to play in the competition since Persib Bandung and Persipura Jayapura reached the last eight in 2015.
FFT Malaysia, Vijhay Vick: JDT 3 Persija 1: The 2015 winners are expected to make changes to their line-up, but they have enough depth to take on the tired visitors.
FFT Indonesia, Tio Prasetyo Utomo: JDT 1 Persija 2: The Indonesians are in good form and are playing well in the President’s Cup. Simic is firing too so I can see a narrow win for the visitors.