Group E: Johor Darul Ta’zim (MAS) 0-1 Shandong Luneng FC (CHN)
Johor Bahru: Graziano Pelle struck again to give Shandong Luneng a 1-0 win over a resilient Johor Darul Ta’zim in their 2019 AFC Champions League Group E encounter on Wednesday.
Played at a typically raucous Tan Sri Hassan Yunos Stadium, the home side came into the match confident of a result after their impressive finish in their previous encounter in China PR two weeks ago.
And it was the Malaysians who made a bright start, with Azrif Nasrulhaq firing the first effort, but his shot was wide of the mark, as was Diogo’s effort when he tried from the edge of the area five minutes later.
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Aidil Zafuan saw his header flash wide on 15 minutes as the home side continued their impressive start.
But with their first real attempt of the evening the visitors struck, with Pelle pouncing on a failed clearance to volley the Chinese side ahead and record his sixth goal of this campaign so far.
Jin Jingdao spurned a great chance to make it 2-0 just minutes later when he shot straight at the keeper after the JDT defence sat off and allowed him to take a free shot from the edge of the area.
While that miss was understandable, there were no excuses for Song Wenjie after he inexplicably missed a simple tap in with an empty net at his mercy with just under 10 minutes remaining in the first half.
Song tried to make amends for his miss early in the second half, but Izham Tarmizi Roslan was up to the task to deny Shandong a second.
Izham produced another exceptional save to deny Pelle his brace just after the hour mark when the Italian rose highest to get his header on target only for Izham to stand tall and keep the ball out.
Pelle came even closer in the final minutes of the match when his thunderous volley smashed the back off the crossbar to deny him another brace.
Ultimately the visitors didn’t need the second goal as they held out for a 1-0 win that sees them jump to the top of Group E, ahead of title holders Kashima Antlers by just one point.
It is the Japanese side that JDT will face next in two weeks, while Shandong Luneng return home to take on Korea Republic’s Gyeongnam.
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