Even in a memorable victory, some players’ performances were questioned, but Johor Darul Ta’zim’s (JDT) coach Benjamin Mora is standing firm with his troops.
Brazilian striker Diogo Santo and national winger Safawi Rasid came in for criticism for scuffing lots of chances in their 2-1 win against South Korean giants Suwon Samsung Bluewings in their Group G AFC Champions League (ACL) encounter at the Sultan Ibrahim Stadium in Iskandar Puteri on Tuesday.
Both had lots of chances but just could not finish them off. In their last three matches, Safawi has only scored once, from a penalty against Vissel Kobe in the ACL while Santo has no goal to show.
Mora, however, dispelled any criticism saying the two had made a difference with their work rate.
“You claim he (Safawi) is off the radar, but I think otherwise. He was on the radar throughout the match. He did a great job, ” said the Mexican.
“He made opportunities for the team with his runs. Pawi was always in the box, and defensively, he did a great job. The same with Diogo.
“However, they were not accurate enough to convert their chances. In Pawi’s case, as long as he gets opportunities, he will start to score any time. He is one of the best, if not the best in Malaysia, ” he said.
Argentinian-Iraqi winger Gon-zalo Cabrera got the ball rolling for the Southern Tigers when he buried in a penalty in the 13th minute, but Suwon fought back through Terry Antonis in the 51st minute.
However, the Southern Tigers had the last laugh when Brazilian centreback Mauricio Santos headed the team’s winner in the 73rd minute.
“We knew it was going to be difficult because Suwon are a side that run all the time, and they have great strength too. The boys did their job well by pressing high, knowing the capacity of our opponents.
“The pressing exposed Suwon. In JDT, there are no superstars because the team are the superstars. Everybody worked for the badge, and they kept on fighting.”
Mora now has a headache of choosing his best 11 for every match because every option in his team is good.
Against Suwon, captain and midfielder Hariss Harun was rested as Mora opted to play Nazmi Faiz Mansor, Natxo Insa and Afiq Fazail in the middle of the park.
“JDT are about 27 players. These 27 players have different characteristics, but they are all outstanding players. Hariss, as a captain and player, has played many games for us, and we will miss him if he does not play.
“Natxo is now back, and we all know he is a top player. I have to make big decisions with rotations. Not just them, but we have Nazmi, Jambu (Afiq) and Syamer (Kutty Abba).
“Whoever plays, I want them to defend the badge like everyone else. These options are a good headache for me.”
JDT will next face minnows UiTM in the Super League on Saturday at the Sultan Ibrahim Stadium, as they look to notch their third win in a row in all competitions.
They started the season by losing to Vissel Kobe 1-5 but bounced back to beat reigning FA Cup champions Kedah 1-0 in the Charity Shield.