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Asian Champions League Preview: Bangkok United vs Johor DT

Uncertainty has been the trending theme of the month with politicians all around the world turning the world into a precarious place, but it goes without saying that a certain football club in the southern tip of Malaysia has been plagued by concerns about a future that seems to lack clarity at this juncture.

In just two months, JDT lost three key figures in the form of Jorge Pereyra Diaz, Juan Martin Lucero and their ever-present head coach, Mario Gomez. From being on the brink of potentially gearing up to usher in a brand new era of domination in 2017, the Southern Tigers are now facing a fresh task of rebuilding the aura of invincibility that accompanied them throughout 2016. But when they face Bangkok United in the Asian Champions League qualifiers on Tuesday night, Benjamin Mora and his newly-assembled battalion have a unique opportunity to silence a vast majority of their doubters, and finally get their 2017 momentum going.

Photo Credit: Johor Southern Tigers
Photo Credit: Johor Southern Tigers

If you’re a neutral punter looking to make a quick buck off this game, the safe bet would never involve an outcome that leaves JDT ecstatic. This is not only a reflection of Bangkok United’s sheer superiority, but also JDT’s struggle for form in recent weeks. The Southern Tigers did not win a single game during the pre-season tour of Thailand, and their Super League performances have not been stellar either.

Local rivals Kedah were arguably the better side during their Charity Shield clash, and it was justly reflected in the outcome of the match, albeit on spot-kicks. And while the Southern Tigers did well to beat Felda United 3-1 in their second MSL match of the season, you could argue that they only managed to turn on the style when the Fighters were reduced to 10-man.

Photo Credit: Johor Southern Tigers
Photo Credit: Johor Southern Tigers

This shouldn’t come as a surprise in any way though. JDT’s status as Malaysia’s footballing heavyweight tends to put more pressure on their shoulders, with little to regard to how complicated change can be for a football team. It’ll take time for Mora to stamp his brand of football on the squad, it’ll also take time for the likes of Gonzalo Cabrera, Brian Ferreira and Jeronimo Barrales to fit the club’s style of play as well. After all, Juan Martin Lucero did take a few weeks to get adjusted, before he started scoring goals for fun, last year.

That said, the unpredictability of JDT’s new set-up could be dangerous for Bangkok United. There were several encouraging signs of improvements against Felda, particularly from their new batch of young stars. Afiq Fazail and Safawi Rashid were both relatively impressive last Friday – precisely why they could be key weapons for JDT, when they take to the Thammasat Stadium pitch.

Photo Credit: Football Channel Asia
Photo Credit: Football Channel Asia

As far as the Bangkok United are concerned, it’s all about getting their formidable squad to hit their strides on Tuesday night. Their last competitive action was a 3-0 TPL win over Chiangrai United in September 2016, before the Thai League was abandoned, following the passing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. But the Bangkok Angels did compete in the recent J.League Asia Challenge, an exhibition tournament that was hosted to commemorate the 130th Anniversary of diplomatic relationship between Japan and Thailand.

Alexandré Pölking’s men succumbed to a 2-3 defeat against Yokohama F. Marinos on the 24th of January, but bounced back to seal an emphatic 4-3 win over Kashima Antlers, merely two days later. On paper, Bangkok United are visibly favourites for the tie, but their lack of competitive action could be a minor advantage for JDT. But Mora is not ready to gamble on that minor fact – instead, he’s been studying videos of Bangkok United’s recent performances, including their two recent matches against Yokohama and Kashima.


“To prepare my starting eleven, we’ve been closely watching videos of Bangkok United’s performances in recent games. Identifying their strengths and weaknesses has allowed me to better shape my tactical plans for the match,” he told Harian Metro. “In football, it’s not impossible to produce a surprise. I know it won’t be easy for us to play an experienced side like Bangkok United at home, but if we remain consistent and stick to our tactical plan, it’s completely possible for us to clinch a favourable result.”

There’s so much of uncertainty around JDT and what awaits them this year. And it’s no secret that the Asian Champions League is arguably the biggest challenge they’ll face this year, even if it comes at such an early stage of the season. But like every David that has gone into battle against Goliaths, unpredictability could turn out to be their biggest strength. At the end of the day, bragging rights isn’t the only thing awaiting them, should JDT triumph on Tuesday night. A historic trip to face Gamba Osaka at the Suita City Football Stadium on the 7th of February, is also on the cards.

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