AFC Cup Preview: Reigning champions pose JDT acid test

Malaysian side Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) have an enormous task ahead of them on the road in Wednesday morning’s AFC Cup semi-final first leg against Kuwait side Qadsia SC...

As reigning champions, Qadsia have been there and done that in this competition and standing in their way of another final are JDT – the only remaining East Asian side.

The last four showdown for Mario Gomez's JDT is already the furthest a Malaysian side has ever progressed in the competition.

The odds are stacked against the Southern Tigers. Qadsia SC were also the losing finalist of the 2013 edition and a hat-trick of finals is the Kuwaitis' mission. 

Yet if there is one Malaysian club capable of surpassing expectations, it is surely JDT.

It is history for Malaysia and very important for us to achieve a good result

- Mario Gomez

Having already met their own expectations, reaching the decider will only add colour to their story of transformation since 2013 as they attempt to reach a continental final for the first time.

Yet Gomez knows it will be no easy task against the Kuwaiti giants.

"We know that Qadsia SC are the defending champions and they have good players,” Gomez told the AFC website. “I have some information about the players of Qadsia SC and they have showed great skills in the previous match.

“There is no doubt that Qadsia SC have experience and they are the champions, but games are still games and everything is possible. It is good for us to reach this stage and we want to win the match.

“It is history for Malaysia and it is very important for us to achieve a good result and advance to the final."

Central defender Marcos Antonio, whose presence this season showed why the club was prepared to part ways with Singapore international Baihaki Khaizan last year, can expect to have his hands full.

Qadsia in action in the AFC Cup. Photo courtesy of YouTube

The hosts have scored 11 goals in the competition thus far. That’s a far cry from JDT's 20 to date, although Qadsia SC did go up against arguably stronger West Asian clubs.

Antonio not only needs to keep talisman Bader Al-Mutawa at bay, but also ensure the back four is not exposed throughout the match.

JDT have proven resolute defensively thus far, conceding just five goals in nine games in the competition.

Qadsia SC have displayed some defensive frailties of late, conceding two against Al Jaish in the quarter-final second leg and suffering a 3-1 defeat to Kuwait SC in the Super Cup last Tuesday.

They also conceded six goals in the group stage and finished 10 points behind winner Kuwait SC in the Kuwait Premier League that concluded in May.

JDT could fancy themselves going forward considering Safee Sali’s form – he has four goals in this year's AFC Cup, including two in the second-leg quarter-final victory over South China – but it doesn’t help that influential Argentine Luciano Figueroa will miss the tie on suspension after receiving a straight red in that same match.

Safiq Rahim and Hariss Harun will have to double up their efforts in central midfield as Figueroa's absence could leave a void in the creativity department. 

As always in two-legged finals, an away goal could also play a crucial role come the second leg on October 20.