Preview: AFC Cup – Johor DT vs Ayeyawady United

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Photo Credit: Asiana.my

It’s one thing to compete in the AFC Cup as undisputed Kings of Malaysian football. But it’s completely another thing to walk onto the pitch as defending champions of the competition itself. As far as JDT are concerned, every eyes will be on them in 2016, after their triumphant AFC Cup campaign last year.

After narrowly losing out to Muangthong in the Asian Champions League qualifiers, JDT were slotted into Group H, alongside Myanmar’s Ayeyawady United, India’s Bengaluru FC as well as Laos’ Lao Toyota FC. First up for the Southern Tigers? A home clash against Ayeyawady.

THE JOHOR DT VIEW

Photo Credit: Asiana.my
Photo Credit: Asiana.my

It seems that Mario Gomez has tailored the JDT squad to fit his own style of football. The Southern Tigers are a lot more compact this year and they are really starting to patiently build up from the back. Against Muangthong United, they were able to resist waves after waves of attacks and while it was due in no small part to Farizal Marlias’ excellent performance in between JDT’s sticks, it was also due to structural adjustments that were made at the back. Marcos Antonio and Aidil Zafuan have formed such an effective partnership, while Kunanlan has virtually solidified his position as an attacking full-back that’s equally diligent when it comes to defending.

These changes will be crucial in the AFC Cup this year, especially since they’ll be expected to dominate matches as the reigning champions. The pressure will undoubtedly be there, and Mario Gomez’s tactical resilience will come in handy, if they’re looking to replicate last year’s achievement. It will make them a tougher nut to crack while at the same time providing them enough assurance to venture upfront efficiently.

But of course, they’ve got their own issues to deal with right now. It may not be pressing, nor is it big but JDT are desperate to get Juan Martin Lucero scoring for them. The ex-Independiente forward has yet to break his goalscoring duck since making the move earlier this month and even missed a penalty during their FA Cup tie against UiTM last week. He’s likely to feature in their starting line-up tomorrow and Mario Gomez will be hoping to see him strike first blood against Ayeyawady.

THE AYEYAWADY UNITED VIEW

Photo Credit: themnl.com
Photo Credit: themnl.com

Larkin isn’t exactly Ayeyawady’s favourite hunting ground. The last time they were in town, JDT handed them a 5-0 footballing lesson. If you’re a punter, you wouldn’t rule a similar drubbing out, albeit a smaller score line. Despite being on the back of four wins in the Myanmar National League, Ayeyawady have not looked convincing on the pitch.

Even head coach Kyaw Lin admitted that his side lacks cutting edge, as far as their defensive department is concerned. “Ayeyawady has conceded a lot of goals this year through lack of concentration. Our goalkeeper and defenders have stood up well to strong attempts from the opposition only to give up easy goals later in the game,” he told Myanmar Times.

But of course, it’s not all dark and gloomy either. Despite losing 2015 AFC Cup joint-top scorer Riste Naumov, the Myanmar side have found an adequate replacement in Chizoba Christopher. The Nigerian forward has been in explosive form this year, scoring seven goals in seven matches thus far and he’ll undoubtedly be raring to have a go at JDT’s defence on Wednesday night.

THE VERDICT

Photo Credit: Johor Southern Tigers
Photo Credit: Johor Southern Tigers

JDT are heavy favourites for this one. In fact, they’ll hitting themselves if they don’t secure three points from this tie. But Mario Gomez has been in football long enough to understand that you can never afford to underestimate any team, especially in a competition of this level. That exact diligence will help them put on a thrilling show at Larkin on Wednesday night. As far as Ayeyawady is concerned, even a point from this tie would be terrific. It wouldn’t be surprising to see them adopt a defensive strategy for this game, though at the rate they’ve been shipping in goals this year, it will take a miracle to stop JDT from scoring in this game.