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Did JDT benefit enough from their Champions League damage limitation?

Facing a huge challenge in Japan, defence-oriented Johor Darul Ta'zim walked away with a respectable 3-0 defeat. But Scott McIntyre questions whether the Southern Tigers could have furthered their footballing development with a different approach...

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Having come to the winter chill of central Japan – all three degrees of it – and decided to take their shirts off in some kind of ritual defiance of the cold, the healthy number of travelling Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) fans cut a brave sight early on as they supported their team in its Asian Champions League (ACL) playoff.

When they decided to maintain that posture as the mercury lowered, there was a sense the topless stance was being maintained more out of defiance than any attempt at fashion.

Every phase of play, every won or lost moment of possession should be seen as a chance to push, prod, probe and try to break down these kinds of clubs

So it was on the pitch too.

Whilst on the surface of things the ‘narrow’ 3-0 loss to Japanese side Gamba Osaka will be seen as a relatively positive, brave result, the manner in which the Malaysian side played for long spells once trailing by a couple of goals certainly limited the damage.

In the short-term that’s all fine but this is the way it’s likely to be for the foreseeable future, with one-off matches against an opponent from either Japan, Korea or China to reach the group stage of the elite continental competition.

Viewed in that light, every minute, every phase of play, every won or lost moment of possession and every transition should be seen as a chance to push, prod, probe and try to break down these kinds of clubs.

JDT owner Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim has often stated his dream is to eventually reach the tournament proper, even if that means some heavy defeats along the way, and he is realistic it could still be some time before that is achieved, if ever.

Gamba remain a clear cut above for now. Photo: Gamba Osaka

It’s understandable JDT came to Japan to try to contain Gamba early on and take what they could on the counter and for the first quarter of an hour they impressed mightily in doing so.

The often and clearly enunciated aim for JDT is not just to dominate Malaysian football but to also move towards being a regional force

Yet when the second goal arrived in quick succession after the first the visiting team retreated into its shell and for long spells of the second half – especially after Gamba’s third goal – they were clearly playing to limit the damage rather than trying to impose themselves on the contest.

While damage limitation is understandable to an extent, these are not group stage situations or two-legged ties where goal difference may ultimately play a part – you lose, regardless by how many, and you’re out, simple as that.

You also don’t get another chance to test yourself at this level for exactly 12 months.

The often and clearly enunciated aim for JDT is not just to dominate Malaysian football but to also move towards being a regional force and then eventually a competitive outfit in a broader continental sense.

[OVER PAGE: The positives and the bigger picture]