Malaysian champions Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) suffered a 5-1 thrashing at the hands of J1 League outfit Vissel Kobe in the AFC Champions League 2020 at the Misaki Park Stadium in Kobe, Japan on Wednesday.
The Malaysia Super League side had levelled through a Safawi Rasid penalty after an early opener from the home side, but a hattrick from Keijiro Ogawa and a master display from Andres Iniesta inflicted a 5-1 defeat on the visiting Southern Tigers.
Here, we take a look at the five key talking points from the ACL 2020 encounter…
1) JDT with early chances, but Vissel show their class
Highlights – Vissel Kobe vs Johor Darul Ta’zim
The visitors had a few chances falling their way in the opening exchanges as Diogo Luis Santo failed to get a header on target from a Safawi Rasid set piece in the ninth minute before Nazmi Faiz Mansor could only fire his shot straight into the hands of Vissel goalkeeper Hiroki Iikura three minutes later. With JDT failing to capitalise on their chances, Vissel set out to punish them and their opener was testament to the qualify the Japanese side have in their roster. Iniesta played a delightful long ball which was met by a brilliantly-timed run from Ogawa who lifted the ball over Malaysia international goalkeeper Farizal Marlias in to the goal to give the hosts a 1-0 lead in the 13th minute.
2) The Southern Tigers fight back to draw level
It was expected that the floodgates might open after Ogawa’s opener within the first quarter hour, but it was JDT who next found the back of the net instead. And it was credit to some quick thinking from the part of full-back La’Vere Corbin-Ong who won a throw in and hurled the ball into the path of Diogo in the box. The Brazilian crossed into the centre, but the delivery brushed the arms of Thomas Vermaelen and referee Alireza Faghani pointed to the spot. Safawi Rasid stepped up to take the penalty and battled his nerves to plant a low drive into the goal and restore parity in the Group G encounter by the 27th minute.
3) But JDT’s moment of glory lasts under 60 seconds
Vissel’s reply for that surprise equaliser was swift as the Japanese side ran rings around the JDT players before Kyogo Furuhashi blasted a shot into the net from the edge of the box the very next minute. The Japanese winger’s effort was close to JDT goalkeeper Farizal, but the shot-stopper failed to make any sort of connection to the shot as it flew past him into the goal. It looked as if JDT’s celebrations were yet to subside and their players and the defence in particular had switched off for a moment only for the opposition to take full advantage.
4) Iniesta runs the show!
The 5-1 result was an embarrassing one for the Malaysians, but they can at least take comfort from the fact that they were undone by a masterclass from one of the greatest players to ever grace the sport of football. Barcelona legend Iniesta was at his near best on his AFC Champions League debut and provided two assists and made five key passes during his 88 minutes on the field. The Spaniard was the live-wire for Vissel and was finding his teammates across the field with passes that seemingly only he could contemplate. It will be Iniesta who will have to be the difference like he did against JDT if Vissel are to make a deep run in this continental campaign.
5) What next for the dejected Malaysians?
It might be a morale-shattering defeat for JDT — their biggest ever in the AFC Champions League after conceding just eight goals in six matches of the 2019 edition where they came up against Shandong Luneng, Kashima Antlers and Gyeongnam FC. However, all is not lost for the Southern Tigers. They still have five games left to play in ACL 2020 of which three will be played at their brand new home of the Sultan Ibrahim Larkin Stadium where they will now host K League side Suwon Samsung Bluewings in their next continental clash on March 3. The Malaysia Super League side will then head to Korea Republic for the return leg and if they can pull off a result in at least one of those games, it will give them the right impetus to go through the second half of their ACL 2020 group stage campaign with renewed vigour.