South China vs JDT: Malaysian champions out for AFC Cup advantage in Hong Kong
Another step on JDT's road to retaining continental glory
AFC Cup defending champions Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) meet South China in the quarter-final stage for the second year running knowing the tide is the former’s favour after securing a historic Malaysia Super League (MSL) title for a third time running.
Last year, the Hong Kong side held JDT 1-1 in Larkin but fell 3-1 in the second-leg back home as the Southern Tigers become the first Malaysian side to reach the last-four.
JDT are a different animal this year and their 100 percent win record in 2016 – statistically the competition’s best thus far – is just one example of how Mario Gomez, who had a brief stint with South China before signing for JDT last May, has transformed the club.
Having already become the first club to win the MSL three years consecutively, JDT are just two points away from completing their league fixtures without a single defeat.
South China finished their 2015-16 domestic season without silverware but Jose Ricardo Rambo’s charges have been resilient in the AFC Cup thus far, however.
Their campaign got off to a poor start with losses to Yangon United, Mohun Bagan and Maziya Sports & Recreation, but the 41-time Hong Kong league champions responded by winning their last three group matches to finish in second place.
South China needed an extra time winner from Luiz Carlos to defeat Filipino side Ceres in the quarter-final while JDT flexed their muscles for a 7-2 win over Philippines’s other AFC Cup participant, Kaya.
The Southern have a full squad to choose from and should any late concerns arise, Gomez couldn’t have asked for better depth to fill a void.
The 2015 winners fielded a weakened side several times in the competition already this year but have yet to find their match.
South China, meanwhile, are expected to be fresh for the clash but will be cautious about their match fitness as they have only played once since the Hong Kong Premier League new season kicked off on August 28.
Player to watch: Jorge Pereyra Diaz
Skipper Safiq Rahim and Juan Martin Lucero are JDT’s leading marksman in the competition, but make no mistake about the importance of Diaz on the continental stage.
The MSL leading goalscorer, with 17 strikes to his name, is what makes JDT’s attack tick, in the same way retired compatriot Luciano Figueroa did in the competition last year.
Diaz is the fulcrum of JDT’s attack alongside Safiq and Lucero. If the trio hit off on the right notes as expected, South China’s defence could be in for torrid night on Tuesday.
Facts and figures
- JDT are the only team in the competition to win all seven of their matches thus far. Bahrain’s Al-Muharraq in the West Zone of the competition comes close with six wins and a draw.
- JDT are the highest scorers in the competition with 28 goals, averaging four goals a match.
- South China have not progressed to the last-four since 2009 while 2015 champions JDT became the first Malaysian side to even the last-four last year.
- South China have a poor home record in 2016 after winning only five times in 12 matches in all competitions while JDT have only lost three times (all away) in 2016 – including the AFC Champions League playoff against Thailand Muangthong United.
- JDT aim to be the first Southeast Asian side to reach consecutive semi-finals.
South China 1 JDT 3. The Malaysian champions enter the tie totally confident in their own abilities and, with the MSL title wrapped up, can fully focus their resources on continental glory.