Malaysian champions Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) once again put up an impressive display in the AFC Champions League 2019, but went down 2-1 to hosts Shandong Luneng in Group E.
Marouna Fellaini and Graziano Pelle scored in the first half for the Chinese Super League outfit at the Jinan Olympic Sports Centre in Shandong on Tuesday, but JDT reduced the deficit through Malaysia youngster Safawi Rasid before the hour mark to make it 2-1.
That’s how the score remained at the final whistle as Shandong recorded their first win of the campaign. Here, we take a look at the five key talking points from the ACL 2019 match…
1) Fellaini and Pelle too strong for JDT!
AFC Champions League 2019: Shandong Luneng 2-0 Johor Darul Ta’zim (Graziano Pelle 39′)
Shandong Luneng lined up with two very familiar faces in their starting 11 – that of Belgian defensive midfielder Fellaini and former Southampton forward Pelle. And it was the duo who caused plenty of problems for the Johor defence in the first half and became the outlets for the Chinese side’s goals. Former Manchester United man Fellaini headed in a corner kick battling La’Vere Corbin-Ong in the 30th minute and then Aidil Zafuan had little idea how to deal with the physicality of Pelle and brought down his man after yet another long ball found the Italian striker.
2) Safawi’s moment of brilliance creates history
AFC Champions League 2019: Shandong Luneng 2-1 JDT (Safawi Rasid 59′)
It looked as if the Malaysians will be staring down the barrel after going down 2-0 in the space of 10 minutes, but Johor came into the second half with renewed vigour and managed to negate the threat of the home side. But the highlight of the game came in the 59th minute when JDT starlet Safawi Rasid took possession of the ball in the right flank, battled Shandong’s Wu Xinghan and curled a left-footer into the top corner from distance to make it 2-1. JDT’s second goal in their fledgling ACL campaign was also the first goal scored by a Malaysian footballer in ACL tournament proper! Pure class and some history created by the 22-year-old attacker.
3) Johor a crossbar away from stealing a point!
90+4′ – JDT HIT THE WOODWORK! @OfficialJohor gets a free kick in front of the goal and Gonzalo Cabrera beats the goalkeeper from the set piece, but can’t beat the crossbar! JDT unfortunate here not to equalise! #SDLvJDT #ACL2019 pic.twitter.com/iCjlHtAMpA
— FOX Sports LIVE! (@FSAsiaLive) April 9, 2019
JDT’s much improved showing after the interval meant that it would have been deserving had the visitors taken a point away from this fixture. However, it wasn’t meant to be as it was the crossbar that was the difference between a draw and defeat for the Tigers. Diogo was brought down in front of the area deep into the second half injury time and Gonzalo Cabrera lined up to take the set piece. The Argentina-born man beat China international goalkeeper Wang Dalei on goal, but the crossbar emerged the villain to deny JDT a point.
4) Shandong a Championship side in guise?
They might have some of the biggest names in world football among their ranks, but Shandong’s playing style was not something most observers of the game would be happy about. The Chinese Super League side are one of the contenders for domestic title back home this season and improved their chances of making it to the knockout stages of the Asian Champions League with their first win of the campaign. They took a very direct approach against JDT on Tuesday and with strong physical presence of Fellaini and Pelle inside the box, they can be forgiven for launching balls forward. But will that be enough when and if they come up against more superior oppositions in the later stages of the competition? Not many will bet their money on Li Xiaopeng’s team.
5) Southern Tigers must turn good displays into points
After three match days, we have reached the halfway point of the group stages of the ACL 2019. Though JDT have put on a commendable performances in all three of their Champions League fixtures so far — against reigning champions Kashima Antlers, Gyeongnam FC and now Shandong — they still only have one point to show for their efforts. Having now realised they can given any Asian side a run for their money, JDT will have to convert good displays into points on board in the second half of the campaign. With two home games against Kashima and Shandong and an away encounter against Gyeongnam who they held to a 1-1 draw at Larkin coming up, it is high time they shoved some points into their kitty.