Most pundits have Johor Darul Ta’zim down for a home win on Tuesday in their AFC Cup quarter-final second leg against South China AA.
The Malaysian champions looked strong in the first leg, dominating the first period and grabbing a vital away goal before South China improved in the second half. The pressure finally told when Nicola Komanzec scored a crucial last-minute equaliser.
Some would argue that the late goal gives the Hong Kong side the momentum going into Tuesday’s game, but defending champions JDT will be confident of victory given that they remain unbeaten at the Larkin this season, winning 18 out of 21 games at home in all competitions, including a 7-2 thrashing of Kaya FC in the last round.
And while fans and commentators predict a JDT win, coach Mario Gomez is aware that the tie is far from over.
“We cannot afford any big mistakes tomorrow. To get a draw in the first leg was good, but we are not in the semi-final yet,” he told the AFC Website.
“Our mentality is to win,” he added. “We must play the same way and adopt the same fortress mentality as we did in the first half in Hong Kong.”
Gomez is right to be wary.
After a disastrous start to the tournament with three-straight defeats, South China turned their campaign around, winning their final three group fixtures, including a 3-0 win in the road at Mohun Bagan in India to qualify second from Group G.
They followed that up with another impressive away win in the Philippines in the round of 16, beating Group E winners Ceres 1-0 after extra time.
2016 AFC CUP QUARTER-FINALS 2ND LEG | JDT VS SOUTH CHINA pic.twitter.com/cOBk5TKpwc
— JOHORSouthernTigers (@OfficialJohor) September 19, 2016
Things will be tougher in Malaysia against the tournament’s highest scorers, and head coach Ricardo Rambo knows that his side have to use the lessons learned from earlier rounds if they are to advance.
“The experiences we gained, playing away to get results in India, and the Philippines helped us a lot,” said Rambo.
“To draw 0-0 is not good enough… we have to find a way to score. The difference is JDT play at home and have a good advantage.
“We have to focus in getting our mentality right, as we are in an exceptional position to do something at this stage.”
If South China continue with the game-plan that they employed during the second half last week, then the tie will not be the walkover that many are expecting.
The winners at the Larkin Stadium will face the victors of the Tampines Rovers-Bengaluru quarter-final on Wednesday with the Indian side leading 1-0 from the first leg.