PETALING JAYA: History beckons Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT).
The Southern Tigers can become the first Malaysian team to qualify for the AFC Champions League if they can get past three obstacles in the qualifying playoffs – beginning with Indian League champions Bengaluru FC at the Larkin Stadium in Johor Baru today.
Clear that, and JDT will face Thailand’s FA Cup winners Bangkok Glass FC in Bangkok on Feb 10.
If they get past the Thai side, the third hurdle will be an away game against 13-time Chinese League champions Beijing Guoan on Feb 17.
JDT head coach Bojan Hodak said his team, boosted by their Charity Shield win against Pahang (2-0) last Saturday, are on the right track to face the new challenges.
“We are ready for the qualifiers although we will have to rest two of our key players. Striker Luciano (Figueroa) has a muscle injury while centreback Mohd Aidil (Zafuan) is not fully fit,” said Hodak on Tuesday.
Striker Mohd Amri Yahyah, who was rested against Pahang, and new signing from Sarawak S. Chanturu should provide the spark for JDT in attack.
The Croatian described the Bengaluru FC side as a “physical team” but expects JDT to maintain their undefeated run at home from last season.
“Technically, we are in better shape and, with our fans behind the team, we should get past this hurdle. The boys are excited about playing in the Champions League,” said Hodak.
“We may have our hands full playing in the domestic and international competitions, but we are focused on our mission to raise the bar for Malaysian football.”
No team from the M-League have gone past the quarter-final stage in the second-tier of the AFC Cup competition since 2004.
Getting past the qualifiers will ensure JDT a place in Group G of the Champions League alongside Australian League (A-League) champions Brisbane Roar, four-time South Korean League (K-League) winners Suwon Bluewings and a yet-to-be-named Japanese League (J-League) team.
Selangor were the last team to have made an impact in the Asian club tournament, finishing runners-up to Israel’s Hapoel Tel Aviv in the inaugural Asian Champions Club tournament in 1967.