PETALING JAYA: A tactical masterclass from Johor Darul Ta’zim coach Benjamin Mora proved the key to the Southern Tigers reaching the Malaysia Cup final for the second time in a row.
So sound was the Mexican’s game plan that the holders still prevailed in the semi-final second leg against Terengganu despite being a man down after only 15 minutes when veteran midfielder Safiq Rahim was sent off for headbutting winger Faisal Halim in an off-the-ball incident.
JDT, fortunately, were already 3-0 up by then at the Sultan Ibrahim Stadium in Iskandar Puteri and they held on to advance 4-1 on aggregate.
The crafty Mora had caught the Turtles off-guard by switching to a more traditional 4-4-2 formation instead of their usual 4-3-3 plan.
Brazilian striker Bergson Da Silva was in sensational form, netting a brace in the seventh and 15th minutes.
Argentinian-Iraqi winger Gonzalo Cabrera, who partnered Da Silva up front, was also on target in the 11th minute.
Mora said he was aware that the opponents were already familiar with JDT’s playing style and he had to counter that with a different game plan.
“We’ve been working on different tactical plans. It’s a matter of evolving and dealing with different opponents,” he said.
“I’m thrilled to see the players score three goals after just 15 minutes. We were clinical when it mattered.”
After Safiq’s sending off, Mora admitted he had to change his team’s shape a little and was relieved they managed to hold on to the lead.
“In Mexico, we describe a red-card situation as putting a little chilli to the game. We had to reorganise and reshape. Terengganu gave us some dangerous moments, but I guess we had the champions’ luck.
“We kept it compact and made sure we held on.
“As for Safiq’s situation, that’s part of football. I was a little surprised with his reaction in the incident with the Terengganu player. Safiq is an experienced player but he was still so motivated to give everything.
“At half-time, Safiq apologised to the team but we told him, don’t worry, as we’re going to win the game.”
JDT won the last Malaysia Cup in 2019 by beating Kedah 3-0. The 2020 edition was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mora said he hadn’t figured out a plan for the final against Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday as he is focused on his players’ recovery for now.
“All I can say is that it’s a final, and I would go to any length to win it.”