The two most in-form sides of the Malaysia Super League will do battle in Shah Alam, in a clash which will have a massive bearing on where the title will go to
BY MARK DAWSON
Azmi - Pantelidis - Bunyamin Umar - Fahmi
Kunanlan - Veenod - Shukur Jusoh - Andik
Rangel - Hadi Yahya
JOHOR DARUL TA'ZIM
Mahali - Shas - Antonio - Asraruddin
Pereyra - Safiq Rahim - Shakir - Yahyah
Figueroa - Safee Sali
For the home side, despite a mouthwatering clash next Monday against Europa League champions, Sevilla FC of Spain, their focus is set to be firmly on this top of the table clash versus Johor. As well as extending their five point lead over their title rivals, they will also be seeking revenge after a 1-4 hammering by JDT in February, their worst Super League result this year.
The Red Giants have been in fine domestic form over the past few months, going unbeaten in 11 matches since their collapse at the Larkin stadium. Key to this has been their defensive form, with keeper Farizal Marlias marshaling a tight unit which has only shipped 11 goals in 16 games. The keeper, who has 10 clean sheets in the Malaysian Super League, was recognized for his outstanding form with the Goal Southeast Asia Player of the Week award last week after playing his part in the 1-0 victory over Sime Darby, their sixth such scoreline of the year.
It remains to be seen if defender Shahrom Kalam, who missed last weeks victory through injury, will be fit enough to recover in time for this clash. If not then expect Australian defender Steve Pantelidis to continue as centre back, which may well be the tactic employed by head coach Mehmet Durakovic to try and counter the in-form Luciano Figueroa.
As for the Southern Tigers, they too are in supreme form, being unbeaten in their past 10 matches in all competitions. In midweek they kept up their title push with a hard fought come from behind win over LionsXII in Singapore, which put Johor within five points of league leaders Selangor.
Head coach Bojan Hodak has said in the build-up to this game that his team are "now closer to Selangor and it will definitely be an important match for all of us. They are top but if we want to stay in the chase for the title, we need to beat them." This will be JDT's third taxing fixture in nine days, and the coach will be well aware of the teams poor league record at Selangor. They have lost their last five Super League away matches against the Red Giants, and will be aware that such a result, or even a draw, could essentially hand the title to their rivals.
Although midfielder Hariss Harun came into the side for the victory over his former team Lions XII, it would be no surprise to see his drop to the bench to accommodate fellow import player Marcos Antonio. With manager Bojan knowing how prolific Selangor's Brazilian forward Paulo Rangel is, expect to see the head coach turn to his countryman, the recent signing from FC Nuremburg, to try and nullify the threat of Rangel.