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AFC Cup Final: 3 Key Battles to watch during Istiklol vs JDT

It’s been an enigmatic year for Malaysian football so far.  While national team has suffered throughout the year, JDT on the other hand, have been making waves across Asia, being a worthy representative of Malaysian football.

At the beginning of the year, no one would have expected JDT to compete in the final of the AFC Cup. In fact, many remained skeptical about them playing in a continental competition as Malaysian teams have generally struggled in it.

But 10 months later, JDT are through to the final, partially thanks to FIFA’s suspension of the Kuwait Football Association.

But the question remains – can they deliver in the final? JDT have a serious injury problem at the moment, with Luciano Figueroa picking a hamstring injury and will likely start from the bench, while the absence of Fadhli Shas, Junior Eldstal and Asrarudin Putra means that Mario Gomez will have to gamble on the inconsistent Aidil Zafuan alongside Marcos Antonio.

Bear in mind – JDT have been mainly successful in the AFC Cup due to the performance of Luciano Figueroa, Safee Sali and Safiq Rahim, all of whom have scored a combined total of 13 goals. But with the absence of several key players, Mario Gomez has to work on his tactics in order to beat FC Istiklol and there are three key battles to look at in this match.

Marcos Antonio v Khurshed Makhmudov

Photo credits: mynewshub.cc
Photo credits: mynewshub.cc

It’s very crucial for JDT to have Marcos Antonio on the pitch against Istiklol. His experience in Europe and presence at the heart of the JDT’s defence for the past two years has been the difference for The Southern Tigers. JDT will need him to deal with Khurshed Makhmudov, who has been terrorising opposition defence throughout the AFC Cup campaign. Makhmudov is extremely good when it comes to scoring from distance, particularly when he scored against Pahang back in the first leg of their quarter-final tie, in Dushanbe. He’s also quick on his feet, as showcased evidently during the second leg of their quarter-final tie against Pahang when he dashed alone through the Pahang defence, breaking Pahang’s two foreign defenders with an incisive finish. Marcos will have to work well with the rest of the back four as well as the goalkeeper in order to prevent from Makhmudov from running rampant.

Hariss Harun v Manuchekhr Dzhalilov

Photo credits: the-afc.com
Photo credits: the-afc.com

JDT must watch out for Dzhalilov. He is a winger who has scored 18 league goals in Tajik League and 4 goals in AFC Cup – the highest goalscorer for FC Istiklol. He is very quick and loves to cut inside from the flanks, which always allows him the space to score. He is equally good as a creator as well. This is certainly the one player Hariss needs to mark. He’s got to stop Dzhalilov from cutting inside too often. If Hariss is able to do that effectively, that will frustrate Dzhalilov and eventually nullify the threat he poses as an offensive player.

Safiq Rahim v Petro Kovalchuk

Photo credits: the-afc.com
Photo credits: the-afc.com

Defence is the weakest part of FC Istiklol, compared to other departments. But despite that, the presence of Ukranian defender Petro Kovalchuk means that JDT’s offensive players will have to work their socks off on the day. Safee Sali and Amri Yahya may lack the pace to beat Kovalchuk, but Safiq Rahim’s creative spark could very well be the tonic boost they need to break through Kovalchuk. If he gets to his usual best of being creative in the middle of the park, he would make it easier for JDT attackers to make runs and distract Kovalchuk, which on the other hand, allows Safiq space to unleash his wide array of lethal shots. This could very well be the most important battle on the pitch, as Istiklol are expected to dominate possession.

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