FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan believes Johor Darul Ta’zim’s win over Kashima Antlers should be the norm and not the exception for ASEAN teams in the AFC Champions League.
It was an impressive result in itself, made all the more significant by the fact that it was literally history in the making.
On Wednesday, Johor Darul Ta’zim – the first Malaysian side to compete in the AFC Champions League proper – recorded a 1-0 victory over reigning champions Kashima Antlers to claim their country’s first-ever win in the tournament and keep alive their hopes of reaching the Round of 16.
Highlights – Johor Darul Ta’zim vs Kashima Antlers
Take nothing away from what is indeed a real achievement.
However, if Johor Darul Ta’zim, Malaysia, and any other Southeast Asian side for that matter, truly have improvement and development on the agenda, matching – and beating – opposition from the continent’s traditional powerhouses has to be viewed as a common occurrence.
And a quick walk down memory lane suggests that has been the case even if the general consensus is that ASEAN teams have stagnated and been left by the wayside or, even worse, deproved in recent times.
In the inaugural ACL campaign 16 years ago, BEC Tero Sasana (now Police Tero) of Thailand beat both Daejeon Citizen and Shanghai Shenhua to top their group and subsequently finished as runners-up.
In the years since, discounting results against teams from the same region, Southeast Asian teams have recorded 23 wins against continental giants such as Guangzhou Evergrande and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.
That is not a figure that suggests they cannot beat the big guns, but instead, the issue is that few teams have managed to record enough wins in a single group-stage campaign to go further.
Notable wins by Southeast Asian clubs in the AFC Champions League group stage
- 2002/03: Daejeon Citizen 0-2 BEC Tero Sasana, BEC Tero Sasana 2-1 Shanghai Shenhua
- 2004: BEC Tero Sasana 4-1 Shanghai Shenhua
- 2007: Persik Kediri 1-0 Shanghai Shenhua, Persik Kediri 2-1 Sydney FC
- 2008: Krung Thai Bank 5-3 Beijing Guoan
- 2009: Sriwijaya 4-2 Shandong Luneng
- 2010: Persipura Jayapura 2-0 Changchun Yatai, SAFFC 2-1 Henan Construction
- 2012: Buriram United 3-2 Kashiwa Reysol, Guangzhou Evergrande 1-2 Buriram United
- 2013: Buriram United 2-0 Jiangsu Sainty
- 2014: Buriram United 1-0 Shandong Luneng
- 2015: Becamex Binh Duong 1-0 Kashiwa Reysol, Buriram United 2-1 Seongnam FC, Guangzhou R&F 1-2 Buriram United, Buriram United 5-0 Guangzhou R&F
- 2016: Becamex Binh Duong 3-2 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
- 2017: Muangthong United 2-1 Kashima Antlers, Muangthong United 1-0 Ulsan Hyundai, Muangthong United 3-0 Brisbane Roar
- 2018: Buriram United 2-0 Cerezo Osaka, Jeju United 0-1 Buriram United
- 2019: Buriram United 1-0 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, Johor Darul Ta’zim 1-0 Kashima Antlers
Buriram United, while not enjoying the best time so far this season, did that twice in 2013 and 2018, while compatriots Muangthong United defeated Kashima, Ulsan Hyundai and Brisbane Roar to also reach the knockout round in 2016.
There have been voices calling for more Southeast Asian representation in the ACL, which have then been greeted in response by suggestions that such a scenario would result in some very lopsided scorelines.
And they are not talking about Ceres-Negros thrashing Shanghai SIPG 6-0. The opposite in fact.
Nonetheless, history suggests that would not exactly be the case.
In truth, the example of Becamex Binh Duong in 2016 would probably fairly reflect how an average Southeast Asian champion would fare at this very moment; four defeats and 13 goals conceded but also managing to claim the odd scalp – a huge one at that – by beating eventual champions Jeonbuk.
— Rhysh Roshan Rai (@RhyshRai) May 8, 2019
Of course, having more ASEAN teams in the competition requires member associations rising up the ranks in the AFC Club Competitions Ranking and rightfully so, for it would only be fair to earn more places on merit.
Yet, even if only a couple of teams are representing in the immediate future, that should not stop them from looking to achieve more than pick up the token triumph along the way.
So every fan of Johor Darul Ta’zim, Malaysian football and Southeast Asian football should rightfully celebrate Wednesday’s fantastic win at Larkin Stadium.
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Marouane Fellaini scored the winner to inspire Shandong Luneng past Gyeongnam FC and into the knockout stage while JDT edged Kashima to stay alive in the tournament. 💪 Kashima, Gyeongnam and JDT will fight for the remaining R16 spot on Matchday Six! 🤔 . #asianfootball #afcchampionsleague #acl2019 #shandongluneng #gyeongnamfc #jdt #kashimaantlers
But it should not be a defining moment for years and decades to come.
For, if football in the region is to truly prosper, then such results, as they have been in the past and is in the present, should be an eve more frequent occurrence in the near future.
Maybe as soon as in a fortnight’s time when JDT visit Gyeongnam FC with a spot in the Round of 16 still within their reach.