JDT look to tighten up for AFC Cup semi second leg, consider Ghaddar
Malaysian champions Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) are already bracing themselves for a rigorous test away to Ceres-Negros later this month as they look for place in the AFC Cup ASEAN zone final.
JDT cling to a narrow 3-2 lead after coming from behind to defeat the Philippines outfit in a dramatic first-leg semifinal at Larkin Stadium on Wednesday night.
Ahmad Hazwan Bakri's deflected winner gave the 2015 champions some breathing space. But the Southern Tigers will have to prepare for a torrid second leg against Ceres, who will have the advantage of two away goals on May 31.
"We will be facing a tough task when we play them in Manila, especially during the Ramadan fasting month," JDT manager Ismail Ibrahim said.
"They only need a goal to go through, but we will need to work hard to defend our lead. At the same time, we can't be too defensive, and must find away goals of our own."
Gonzalo Cabera and Safiq Rahim struck for JDT on Wednesday night, while Ceres profited from sublime strikes from Fernando Rodriguez and Bienvenido Maranon in the first half.
The Philippine league runners up had come out with all guns blazing after the break. They were unlucky not to add to their goal tally, thanks to a combination of fluffed chances and the heroics of JDT goalkeeper Farizal Marlias.
Ismail would like to see more from JDT anchor man Afiq Fazail, whom he felt should have done more to contain the Ceres midfield.
"Safiq and [Gonzalo] Cabrera are not defensive-minded players, so we can't really bank on them to halt the Ceres midfielders. It is the defensive midfielders who should be doing the dirty job and winning those second balls in midfield," Ismail said.
"It did not happen, and as a result we conceded two goals. Anyhow, we will have some players like Aidil [Zafuan] back for the return leg. Some of the players fielded in this game couldn't handle Ceres, and we will make the necessary changes."
JDT could have the services of Lebanese striker Mohammad Ghaddar if he is registered on time, ahead of the return leg after joining the Southern Tigers on Monday.
Ghaddar is on fire with 18 goals in the Malaysia Super League, and his form could help ease JDT through.
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.