Johor Darul Ta'zim inspired by Liverpool
Johor Bahru: Johor Darul Ta’zim coach Benjamin Mora used Liverpool’s shock win over Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League as inspiration as they sprung one of the biggest surprises in recent AFC Champions League history against defending champions Kashima Antlers on Wednesday.
Syafiq Ahmad’s solitary goal 69 minutes into the game sealed a remarkable 1-0 victory for the Malaysian Super League champions, who became the first team from the country to win a game in the group phase of the AFC Champions League.
That it came against the reigning Continental kings – and without suspended striker Diogo – made it all the more significant and Mora was delighted with a performance that keeps the club’s slim hopes of progressing to the knockout rounds alive.
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"I talked about the importance of making history, the first Malaysian team to win a game especially against the champions Kashima Antlers in the AFC Champions League,” said Mora.
“They knew the game plan and things were possible: if Liverpool could do it, why not us? We showed fearlessness and courage.
"At half time I told them we have to make better decisions. Syafiq did a great job up front even though he is not a natural striker. He showed us that without Diogo he can do the job.”
Mora also praised the performance of young goalkeeper Izham Tarmizi, who was making his third start in the competition in place of regular custodian Farizal Marlias and he was one of several young players to impress for the home side.
"Izham didn't play many minutes in the season but we called upon him, he gave a hundred percent,” said Mora. “It is not just about Izham and Syafiq, we have many young locals like Safawi (Rasid), Afiq (Fazail) who perform when the key players are unavailable."
69' - GOAL!! 1-0 Johor Darul Ta'zim!!— FOX Sports LIVE! (@FSAsiaLive) May 8, 2019
JDT have taken the lead against the odds here as Syafiq Ahmad dances past one Kashima defender to get inside the box and then curls his shot into the far post! Johor lead against the Asian champions!!! #ACL2019 #JDTvKAS pic.twitter.com/ZH5EwphkLb
Match winner Syafiq admitted he had fortune on his side when he scored the game’s only goal.
"It was not easy to play against Kashima,” he said. “For the winning goal, I took a gamble. I saw two Kashima defenders closing down on me so I had a difficult decision to make. I took one, two steps to get past them. The angle was tight and the chance to score was slim, but I am thankful I managed to score the goal."
The result means Kashima have squandered a second opportunity to advance to the knockout rounds after their Matchday Four loss against Gyeongnam FC and Go Oiwa’s side now need to pick up a point against Shandong Luneng on May 22 to keep the defence of their title alive.
"For 90 minutes we didn't have full concentration to control the game,” said the Japanese coach. “We need to focus on the next game and work hard to qualify.
"We failed to control the game with the state of the pitch. We are fighting on multiple fronts. Some players I chose couldn't show their performance and didn't meet my expectations tonight."
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