It was a close call for 2016 FA Cup champions Johor Darul Takzim in a second round match against Sabah at the Likas Stadium in Kota Kinabalu on Saturday – a hard earned 2-1 win which put the Southern Tigers into the third round.

On Tuesday it is another tough match for the Johor outfit – this time in a Group H match in the AFC Cup competition. Another away encounter coming in the wake of a surprise 2-0 defeat to Vietnam’s Song Lam Nghe An in Vietnam which has seriously jeopardised their hopes in the Asian meet.

JDT will be facing winless Tampines Rovers of Singapore at the Jalan Besar Stadium in a match which the Southern Tigers need to win at all costs as only the group champions will advance.

Caretaker coach Raul Longhi – holding reins after Ulisses Morais quit the team in a huff with “family health” as his main reason – is aware that his team will have to be at their best to get back on track in the AFC Cup.

After the narrow win over Sabah earned in extra time, Longhi was “happy with the outcome but not pleased with the achievements of my own players” sums up JDT’s predicament.

Argentine hitman Jorge Pereyra Diaz’s ‘desertion’ left a big gap in the team’s strikeforce. Diaz left the team in a lurch when he walked out on the team during the team’s transit at a hotel in Singapore on the eve of JDT’s trip to Vietnam.   

“I was not impressed with the character of my own players in the first half,” said Longhi in a posting on the Southern Tigers Facebook after the win over Sabah.

“Only during the second half did I see them (players) come back and showed high spirit. I would like to congratulate Sabah for a good game. They displayed good performance and fought till the end.

“We were lucky to have won…but that’s football. Sometimes you win a game even though you are performing badly and lose even when you are in top form.”

Longhi, however, is hoping that his players will show their “fighting spirit” in the coming matches, starting with the match against Tampines Rovers in the AFC Cup match.

After the AFC Cup match the Southern Tigers have a real toughie in the Malaysian Super League and this is against Terengganu away on March 10. Terengganu have proudly said that they are ready to put the brakes on JDT, winners of the Super League title a record for four times.

For now the focus is on the AFC Cup. For the record JDT won the AFC Cup in 2015 with a 1-0 win over Tajikistan champions FC Istiklol in Dushanbe. – BY RIZAL ABDULLAH

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