Severe test for JDT in the AFC Cup ASEAN zone semi-final
JDT will need to up the ante when they take on Ceres in the 1st leg of the AFC Cup ASEAN zone semi-final to give themselves the advantage

The semi-final defeat to Bengaluru FC in the 2016 AFC Cup semi-final is probably still raking in the blood of Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) players, a crushing blow to high hopes of retaining the coveted trophy that they won in 2015. 

Another semi-final awaits JDT on Wednesday night, albeit the ASEAN zone semi-final and not the true semi-final stage as it was with that Bengaluru encounter, but an important match nonetheless.

JDT's past record against teams from Philippines

Compared to previous seasons, the Southern Tigers haven't been all-conquering as they have been before, in the group stage. A defeat away to Global FC and a draw also away, to Magwe FC were blots in their otherwise perfect run.

But just like last season, JDT will need an almost perfect first leg at Tan Sri Hj Hassan Yunos Stadium to ensure that they do not go into the second leg with any disadvantage - that means getting a healthy lead as well as ensuring no concession of away goals. 

A defence that has only kept nine clean sheets from 22 matches played thus far, Benjamin Mora will have a big task on his hands to ensure their back-line does not get breached by a Ceres side that has scored have so far scored over 2.7 goals per AFC Cup match this season.

Ceres's right side is the weak link in their defence that JDT must exploit

In Iain Ramsay, Bienvenido Maradon, Fernando Rodriguez, Kevin Ingresso and Manuel Ott - Ceres have the players who can hurt JDT, whether through their shooting prowess from distance or the intricacies of their build-up play.

The onus is on the midfield of JDT to give their defence a better protection. One that would almost certainly mean a place in the midfield trio for Amirulhadi Zainal together with Safiq Rahim and Afiq Fazail. For Amirulhadi's defensive nous will be needed far more than the attacking inventiveness that Nazmi Faiz could bring to the table.

Another big conundrum for Mora would be who will get selected alongside Marcos Antonio at the heart of his defence. Training pictures would show Junior Eldstal and Fadhli Shas returning to training while question marks remain over Aidil Zafuan's participation and recovery from his injury.

JDT need to be wary of Ceres' shooting from distance

Which could well mean another shot in the limelight for young Dominic Tan, who had a fairly impressive game in that 1-1 draw against Melaka United in JDT's last outing. Mora would have preferred the other three to be fit and available though, given they have largely more experience than Dominic.

Up front, much will be depended on competition joint top scorer, Gabriel Guerra - who would be ably supported by Hazwan Bakri and the returning Gonzalo Cabrera. Ceres tends to be slightly weaker down the right hand side of their defence and Cabrera's direct running could play a key part on Wednesday.

Backed by their boisterous home fans, JDT need to rouse themselves up against Ceres and gain a strong lead to take to Bacolod City where they will play the second leg in two weeks' time. On home soil, the Southern Tigers doesn't tend to disappoint.

 

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Johor Darul Ta'zim
Ceres Ceres
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