Gabby Guerra hat trick slays Magwe, keeps JDT alive in AFC Cup
Gabriel Guerra fired home a hat trick as Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) comfortably booked their AFC Cup knockout berth after a 3-1 triumph against Myanmar's Magwe in Group F on Wednesday evening.
The Southern Tigers finished second in their group, but qualified as the highest-placed runners up in the ASEAN region.
Philippines' Global FC topped Group F after they beat Cambodia's Boeung Ket Angkor 3-1 in Philippines.
Another Malaysian side Felda United failed to join them after ending their campaign at the bottom of Group G, following a 4-1 thumping at the hands of Ha Noi FC.
Guerra's master class at Larkin Stadium was largely down to the performance of Safiq Rahim, who laid on all three goals for the striker.
Johor came in as favourites, but found themselves behind after only three minutes.
Kyaw Swar Linn dove in to direct Nanda Kyaw's cross past rookie goalkeeper Haziq Nazli to put Magwe ahead.
But Guerra hauled them level just 12 minutes later, with a moment of a individual quality.
After receiving a short pass from Safiq Rahim 35 metres out, the Argentine swivelled and danced his way past a few defenders before unleashing a piledriver into the top corner.
But Magwe, who held their more illustrious opponents in the reverse fixture, were proving feisty opponents and had plenty of pace for the counter attack.
Cho Ton was their accelerator, and the forward turned Aidil Zafuan inside out before curling a shot just high in the 31st minute.
Eight minutes later, Cho Ton once again left the defender for dead to bore down on goal, and round Haziq for what seemed to be a certain goal.
But somehow, he hooked his shot wide, and JDT survived.
Guerra had another chance just before half-time, but Kway Zin Phyo was quick off his line to smother the shot.
The second half paled in comparison to the opening 45 minutes in terms of end to end action -- apart from two magical moments from Safiq and Guerra.
Two minutes before the hour, the playmaker floated in a perfect cross for the Argentine to steer home past Zin Phyo.
Safiq then orchestrated another opening for Guerra to take home the match ball, through a 78th minute penalty.
The former Malaysia captain earned the spot kick after some good footwork. Guerra did not waste the opportunity to fire home his seventh strike in the regional competition.
It capped the perfect end for the 2015 champions, who sailed into the knockout stages for a third consecutive season.
At the Hang Day Stadium in Vietnam, Ha Noi deservedly progressed to the knockout stages, along with Ceres-Negros, with 11 points each at the top of Group G. Pham Duc Huy's phenomenal long range finish in the 52nd minute sent Hanoi on their way before Nguyen Van Quyet doubled that advantage with a peach of a free kick.
Van Quyet completed his brace in the 86th minute, and Do Hung Dung completed Felda's misery at the death.
JDT: Haziq Nazli (GK), Fazly Mazlan, Aidil Zafuan, Marcos Antonio (C), Azrif Nasrulhaq, Fazly Mazlan, Afiq Fazail, Gabriel Guerra, Safiq Rahim, Nazmi Faiz,Azamuddin Akil, R.Gopinathan
Magwe: Kway Zin Phyo (GK), Nang Lin Thun, Nanda Kyaw (C), Swan Htet Aung, Ko Ko Naing, Kyaw Zin Lwin, Kyaw Swar Linn 14, Naing Naing Kyaw, Cho Tun, Hein Zar Aung, Aung Soe Moe
Nicolas Anil is a former Malay Mail and Goal.com Malaysia editor/writer who appears on BFM Radio as a football analyst. Twitter: @nicolas_anil.