JDT’s Argentine connection ensured that The Southern Tigers edged The Crocs to win their first Malaysian Super League title.
BY DARREN GOON Follow on Twitter
The battle for the 2014 Malaysian Super League came down to the wire, with Johor Darul Ta’zim and Selangor FA separated by a mere point leading into the final match of the season, but with the southern side in pole position. They needed only to match Selangor’s result to be crowned champions, but a win would guarantee them the trophy.
Bojan Hodak went for the jugular, starting Argentine duo Luciano Figueroa and Jorge Pereyra Diaz (with 18 league goals between them) up front, while retaining the services of Nazrin Nawi and goalkeeper Al-Hafiz Hamzah after starring roles in last week’s win over Kelantan. Robert Alberts had to make do with an all-local lineup yet again, as all four of his foreign players were injured.
Sarawak did most of the early running. Twice, long passes found Mohd Rasyid Aya motoring into space down the right flank within the opening five minutes, but he had only Ryan Griffiths to aim at in the box, and he was well dealt with by Marcos Antonio.
The effervescent Diaz soon sparked into life, playing a quick one-two with Figueroa, but goalkeeper Sani Anuar Kamsani came off his line to smother the ball. In the 15th minute, Diaz dragged a grounder wide of the near post after receiving a pass from Shakir Shaari, before feeding Nazrin a minute later to let fly with a swerving shot that flew into the side netting, to the relief of Sarawak’s defence.
Goalkeeper Al-Hafiz Hamzah’s kicking was poor, and one low clearance fell to Ryan Griffiths on the half-way line. The Australian looked up and tried to immediately chip Al-Hafiz, but it sailed over the bar.
The home team seemed to be focusing play down their right flank, with Rashid and Joseph Kallang Tie sending in teasing crosses that were easily cleared by Marcos Antonio and Fadhli. The Crocs were doing well on the wing, but their midfielders were failing to get into the box and support Griffiths.
News filtered through that in Shah Alam, Selangor had taken the lead over PKNS and consequently, top spot. However, it failed to galvanise JDT, and the rest of the first-half meandered by as passes went astray and tempers frayed. Mahali Jasuli was hardly used down the right, and Figueroa’s only eventful act of the half was to get a booking for dissent, as Sarawak’s defence did well to keep him under wraps.
JDT threatened after the break, but further attempts by Diaz and Nazrin were foiled by Sani and the side netting, respectively. Sarawak responded with an incisive ball by Shahrol Saperi to substitute Ashri Chuchu in a good position in the box, but his touch failed him at the crucial moment.
JDT were on the backfoot, but cometh the hour, cometh the man. Jorge Diaz latched onto a flick-on by Figueroa, and he showed tremendous strength to hold off Ramesh Lai before prodding the ball past Sani for his eighth goal of the season. JDT had the lead, and with it, pole position yet again.
The same combination almost paid off again for the visitors in the 71st minute, but Diaz’s curler from Figueroa’s flick was caught by Sani. Again, Sarawak countered with dangerous crosses by Chanturu and Mafry, but Al-Hafiz was untroubled in the JDT goal.
With five minutes to go, Bojan brought on Hariss Harun for Diaz as he looked to shut up shop. JDT players slowed play down and maintained possession.
With mere seconds to go, pandemonium ensued in the JDT box as Junior Eldstal’s header to Ryan Griffiths was caught on the line by Al-Hafiz. Sarawak players appealed that the ball crossed the line, but unfortunately, that wasn’t on the referee’s agenda, as the linesman had flagged for an offside on Junior.
Everyone associated with JDT heaved a collective sigh of relief, and the referee blew for full-time moments later. Johor Darul Ta’zim won 1-0 on the night, clinching their maiden Super League title!