JDT's Hariss Harun, Darren Lok wary of weakened Muang Thong
Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) midfielder Hariss Harun has warned his teammates not to underestimate AFC Champions League (ACL) opponents Muang Thong United, despite the Thai club having lost some key players.
The Malaysia Super League (MSL) champions take on the Thai League runners up in the ACL's second preliminary round on Jan. 23, with the winners progressing to a playoff against Kashiwa Reysol in Japan.
And Singapore international Hariss is convinced that Muang Thong still have the quality and experience to ensure that JDT will have as tough a game as they did two years ago when the clubs met at he same stage.
In 2016, JDT were fortunate to take the game to a penalty shootout, but their luck ran out as Muang Thong keeper Kawin Thamsatchanan saved three spot-kicks to take the Thai club through.
But Kawin will not be in goal for the Kirins this month, having completed a move to Belgian second-tier side OH Leuven. Another player who troubled JDT two years ago was Chanathip Songkrasin, who is now on loan at Consadole Sapporo in Japan.
Two more Muang Thong players -- Teerasil Dangda and Theerathon Bunmathan -- recently agreed loan deals in Japan, but they will stay on at the Thai club until the end of the ACL qualifiers.
Depsite the loss of Kawin and Chanathip, Hariss is expecting a very difficult game in Bangkok.
"They have lost some key players, but generally they have so many good players technically," Hariss told ESPN FC. "They have played at a high level before, both at international level and ACL.
"I think we cannot underestimate them even if they have lost several players. I think we have to improve with each friendly game coming up and prepare really well for the playoff."
JDT striker Darren Lok admitted that the loss of a couple of strong players could be an advantage, but warned that this year's focus also had to be on the domestic front, with the Malaysian champions earning an automatic ACL group berth in 2019.
"Obviously, that [Muang Thong losing key players] could help," Lok told ESPN FC. "But that's going to be another tough game.
"It would be great to progress. Obviously, it's one of our main goals this season. If we can, it would be unbelievable.
"Next year, there's that automatic slot, so we've also got to focus on winning the league this year, and that's also very important."
Bangkok-based Paul Murphy has lived in Asia for a decade, writing for ESPN FC since 2014. He is a former Daily Express sub-editor. @PaulMurphyBKK