Hazwan Bakri winner gives JDT edge in AFC Cup semifinal vs. Ceres
Ahmad Hazwan Bakri's deflected second-half goal gave Malaysian champions Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) a 3-2 win over Ceres-Negros in a pulsating AFC Cup semifinal at Larkin Stadium on Wednesday night.
It means that JDT will have a slight advantage ahead of the second leg of the ASEAN zone encounter in Philippines on May 31.
Gonzalo Cabrera and Safiq Rahim also struck as JDT came from behind after Ceres had taken a shock lead through Fernando Rodriguez and Bienvenido Maranon.
Goals were expected in this high-octane encounter, with the sides already having scored 16 times each in the group stage.
Cabera was the first player to notch his name on the scoresheet after 18 minutes.
The Argentine, having received Gabriel Guerra's pass from midfield, neatly maneuvered his way right outside the danger zone, and planted an accurate finish past Ronald Muller.
But Ceres swiftly recovered and hit their hosts with two quickfire goals in the space of three minutes.
Their equaliser in the 21st minute came through Rodriguez, whose diving header from Martin Steuble's cross flew past Farizal Marlias.
JDT manager Ismail Ibrahim had bemoaned his side's loss of focus prior to the game, a point which was exemplified Maranon's sublime finish three minutes later.
The Spanish winger was also afforded space by Dominic Tan as he bore down on goal.
As the young defender held his ground without making a challenge, Maranon capitalised to bend an effort past the despairing Farizal to give Ceres the lead with his eighth goal of the competition.
Marcos Antonio had a good chance to equalise five minutes later, but blazed over the bar from four yards out.
JDT continued to leave gaping holes in their backline, and were almost punished again in the 31st minute by Maranon. He hit an effort just wide after a dazzling one two move with Rodriguez.
But Ismail's men were back level a minute before the break through their talismanic midfielder Safiq.
Fazly Mazlan swung over a delicious cross, and the playmaker marked his run to perfection, arrowing a header into the bottom corner.
Larkin Stadium was expecting the same fiery tempo after the interval. But it was Ceres who emerged the more determined side to regain their advantage.
Farizal had to be at his best to repel an Ott free kick, before the Filipino midfielder rifled a shot from 30 yards just past the bar.
But JDT would weather that storm to take the lead through Hazwan midway through the second half.
The national team forward, who otherwise had a quiet game, did well to swivel just outside the penalty box and fashion enough space to unleash a shot.
It wasn't a fierce drive, but it took a heavy deflection to deceive Ronald and nestle in goal.
Ceres almost drew level in the 83rd minute, but Iain Ramsay somehow failed to tuck home another fantastic delivery from Steuble's cross.
But this tie is far from done, with free-scoring Ceres fancying their chances for the return leg in two weeks' time.
Johor Darul Ta'zim: Farizal Marlias (GK), Fazly Mazlan, Dominic Tan, Marcos Antonio (C), Azrif Nasrulhaq, Fazly Mazlan, Gonzalo Cabrera, Gabriel Guerra, Safiq Rahim, S. Kunanlan, Ahmad Hazwan Bakri
Ceres-Negros: Ronald Muller (GK), Kota Kawase, Manuel Herrera, Kevin Ingreso, Bienvenido Maranon, Manuel Ott, Fernando Rodriguez, Jose Porteria, Iain Ramsay, Martin Steuble (C), Jeffrey Christiaens
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.