Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) manager Luciano Figueroa has admitted that his players were starstruck by Andres Iniesta during their 5-1 thrashing at the hands of Vissel Kobe in the AFC Champions League 2020 opener.
The Malaysia Super League were handed their biggest-ever ACL defeat by the J1 League outfit at the Misaki Park Stadium in Kobe, Japan on Wednesday, with the former Barcelona superstar running the show from the midfield.
And Figueroa feels the club’s players lost their focus due to the presence of the 35-year-old Spaniard.
“We played well in the first 15 minutes, but we slowed down a little bit after that. I think the problem after the third goal was that we stopped believing. You forget everything when you stop believing — what we do in training, our philosophy and our tactics,” the Argentine was quoted by the club.
“We are all aware that Vissel Kobe is a top-class team, the biggest spending Japanese team. The owners even sponsored Barcelona. They spent a lot in terms of football philosophy and they have done it very very well. The Japanese national players, including Iniesta, is top class,” he said.
“I think our players were also a bit starstruck with Iniesta. They were not coming in like usual and they were looking at him more, and that ball watching punished us,” the JDT manager added.
However, Figueroa was confident that the Southern Tigers can learn from the mistakes and perform better in Asia’s premier club football tournament.
“This is a good learning process for us to grow and understand what it takes to be playing at the highest level. I hope we can improve and to improve we need to keep working hard,” he said.
Highlights – Vissel Kobe vs Johor Darul Ta’zim
” I’m looking forward to working with [head coach] Benjamin Mora and the players to improve our weaknesses and do our best in every single match this season,” Figueroa noted.
JDT will now open their domestic campaign when they face Kedah FA in the Malaysia Super League opener on February 28 before hosting Suwon Samsung Bluewings in their second ACL 2020 group stage outing at the brand new home of Sultan Ibrahim Larkin Stadium.