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Where to from here? 5 things we learned from JDT's swift AFC Cup exit

Johor Darul Ta’zim’s (JDT) efforts in the past two AFC Cup competitions appeared to be part of a transitional period. But failing to progress from the group stage for the first time in four seasons has forced the club to go back to the drawing board. Here’s what we’ve learned:

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1. AMBITIONS WERE REASSESSED

There were match days in the group stage that left many wondering if JDT were even serious about the AFC Cup this year.

Yet that wasn’t really the case when the competition started. The Southern Tigers fielded a full strength line-up in their 3-0 opening day win over Persija Jakarta at Larkin Stadium and the same approach was taken in their visit to Song Lam Nghe An, which they lost 2-0.

At JDT, the forward line hasn’t looked lethal without their foreign players performing in the final third in the AFC Cup

The defeat against Song Lam was where their problems actually started.

Former coach Ulisses Morais parted ways with the club due to urgent family matters back home, while Jorge Pereyra Diaz, the bad-boy JDT had given a second chance, shockingly left the club – on mutual terms nevertheless – while on transit in Singapore.

That and a misfiring Luciano Figueroa meant the club was short of options up front, with Gonzalo Cabrera not registered for the competition.

Figueroa, who will be replaced in the mid-season transfer window, has not played in the competition since the defeat to Song Lam. JDT fielded an all-local side – including two naturalised players – in the two matches against Tampines and Hariss Harun was the only regular starter in the crucial visit to Jakarta in the penultimate round, where JDT were thrashed 4-0.

2. THEIR RELIANCE ON IMPORTS

Some local players have performed remarkably well at JDT over the past few years. Fazly Mazlan quickly rose to become the best left-back in the country a couple of seasons ago, Safiq Rahim was voted 2015 AFC Cup most valuable player and Safawi Rasid has developed into one of the region’s best young talents.

Yet the flair, creativity and goals in the final third is where the import players have repeatedly proven their worth and superiority over the locals.

So much so, teams – including the rest of the MSL – have become somewhat dependent on foreign players. They are also the first on the chopping block when results don’t go the team’s way.

At JDT, the forward line hasn’t looked lethal without their foreign players performing in the final third in the AFC Cup.

JDT only scored two goals between match days two and four, taking their total to eight after scoring three in the first and last match of the group stage.

In comparison, Persija scored 13 goals. Ceres Negros, who knocked JDT out in the ASEAN Zonal Semi-final last year, bagged 17 while Home United and Yangon United also hit double figures.

For the record JDT scored 16 at the same stage last year, 21 in the 2016 edition and 11 in their 2015 Cup-winning campaign.