JDT believe they can upset Urawa in AFC last-16 stage

Tougher opponents: JDT’s Safawi Rasid (centre) battling for the ball with South Korea’s Pohang Steelers during their AFC Champions League group match last year. This year, they have qualified for the last-16 round and will play Urawa Red Diamonds tonight in Saitama, Japan. — AFP

PETALING JAYA: Statistics are not in their favour but it will not deter Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) from going for an upset win in the AFC Champions League.

The team are determined to overcome their Japanese opponents Urawa Red Diamonds in the last 16 at Saitama Stadium tonight (9pm Malaysian time).

JDT are playing in the knockout stage of the continental showpiece for the first time and the unseeded side will have their work cut out for them against a side that have featured six times.

JDT have only won one of their seven previous games against Japanese teams in the AFC Champions League, winning 1-0 against Kashima Antlers at home back in 2019 (in the group stage).

Coach Hector Bidoglio admitted that his men would face a difficult task against a club with such a good reputation, especially having emerged as champions twice in 2007 and 2017.

But the Venezuelan handler insisted that his team will still try to give the best performance.

“It’s going to be a difficult game but we will take to the match determined to show our best,” he said. “We have stressed to the players the importance of the game, and the need to stay focused.”

Bidoglio, who took charge of JDT just three weeks ago, said it was not really a difficult task to assume the post as he inherited a squad of players who know what they want.

“The players have fantastic mentality. They know their capabilities and we can match Urawa,” he said.

“Urawa are a very good side, who like to play short ball and press. The key point for us is to have the ball. If we do this, it will be more manageable for us.”

JDT made history by marching into the knockout round of the top Asian club competition after emerging as champions of Group I by eliminating big teams including Kawasaki Frontale and Ulsan Hyundai.

Unlike JDT, who are on course to win their domestic Super League, Urawa are way off the pace in Japan.

Urawa are lying in seventh place in the Japan J1 League standings and trailing pacesetters Yokohama F. Marinos by 13 points.

But the team are going in on the back of two impressive wins in the Japan League Cup and J1 League, which coach Ricardo Rodriguez said was a boost ahead of the JDT tie.

“It was very important for us to arrive here (qualify for the round of 16) on a high,” he said.

“We are playing at home and that is good but having said that, we must play a perfect game as the level of all the teams are very high.

“Johor have improved tremendously since 2015 and they have good local and foreign players.

“I do not expect an easy match at all. They have defeated top Japanese and Korean teams and we will have to play at a very high level if we want to win.”

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Johor Darul Ta’zim , JDT


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