Fresh off claiming a record third consecutive Super League title last Friday, Malaysian heavyweights Johor Darul Ta’zim travelled to Hong Kong where they drew 1-1 with South China in the first leg of their AFC Cup quarter-final tie on Tuesday evening.
That keeps their title defence well and truly alive and following the match Fox Sports Asia spoke exclusively with the team’s coach, Mario Gomez, who touched on the club’s ongoing run of success, their plans to grow into a continental giant and some unfinished business domestically.
Mario, thanks for speaking with Fox Sports Asia. The quarterfinal tie is now delicately poised after the 1-1 draw in Hong Kong, what are your thoughts on the match?
Honestly, we feel a little bit sad because we conceded a goal right in the final two minutes to draw but this is football – in the first half we played very well but in the second half not so well but I’m sure we can win at home.
The away goal certainly helps that cause, right?
Yes, of course and we know if we score we will win and even a draw could be enough but the most important factor for us is that the second leg is at our home and that really helps us.
Looking from the outside the run of success for JDT seems to have come about very quickly, but it’s not always that easy I’m sure although I imagine you have to keep revising your targets now, right?
I’m really thrilled and very happy with the work that we’ve done already; in one and a half years we’ve won five cups and now we have a clear target and that’s to win this AFC Cup.
In the future, of course, we want to play in the Champions League and trying to go through that path of qualification and into that competition is now very important for the club.
After having so much success how do you feel the club should be regarded in a broader regional or continental sense?
We are a big club and we want to be one of the biggest clubs in Asia but we need time.
Comparing yourself though to say some of the leading clubs in Thailand, the likes of Buriram or Muangthong, do you feel that you’re now on the same level as those clubs in Southeast Asia, especially given that you’ve just won a third straight Super League title in Malaysia?
No, not yet but in a few years that’s our aim for sure. You see though our boss has been here just a few years in JDT and the changes have already been very quick but we have to remain patient.
Already though he has helped us greatly with many new facilities and maybe next year we’ll have a new stadium and we’ve won many cups within these two years but within two or three years sure we want to be the biggest in Southeast Asia.
How big can the club become – in the future can JDT continue to develop and eventually challenge the bigger clubs from China, Korea or Japan?
Yes, that’s our target but we need time. It’s important to remember that and I’m not saying how long, maybe it’s one, two or three years because we need time.
The first step on that path is to keep winning in our country and then the next step should be to aim to reach the group stage of the Champions League next year, that’s an important goal.
Looking at the recent history of the club it’s a very young club and we need time because of course we want to grow and improve but we don’t want it to be an unsustainable success where we do well for a couple of years and then fall away; what we want is a permanent situation where we grow and then stay at that level.
Finally, you’ve just wrapped up your third Super League title and your defence of the AFC Cup is well and truly alive – how hard is to keep trying to maintain that level of success?
We are constantly trying to find new targets even with our success.
Don’t forget that we still have another two matches in the Super League and we haven’t lost a single match in the league this year so we have a new target again and that’s to not lose at all in the Super League this year – as well, of course, as winning in the AFC Cup.