Kashima handed starts to seven players under the age of 23 and still looked comfortably the significantly better team in the opening Group E match of the 2019 AFC Champions League encounter against JDT to run out 2-1 winners and gained their first three points of the campaign.
With Ignacio 'Natxo' Insa still not fully fit, Benjamin Mora was forced to use Afiq Fazail alongside Hariss Harun with Syafiq Ahmad given the opportunity to form a three-man midfield. Despite the huge difference in age, the Japanese still dominated possession right from the start with JDT only sparingly threatened Kashima's defence.
Nerves was on display clearly right from the start as JDT looked jittery with Farizal Marlias in particular, letting the occasion get to him. A unnecessary foul on Takeshi Kanamori at the edge of the penalty box almost gave away an early penalty to the home side in the 3rd minute.
Diogo Luis Santo was undeniably the coolest JDT head around and he reacted quickest inside the box in the 9th minute to produce an overhead kick but Kwoun Sun-tae was in the right place to catch the ball. But problems appear again in the other end when Farizal fumbled a Kazuma Yamaguchi shot and subsequently took down Serginho to concede a penalty in the 14th minute.
But the Malaysian international atoned for his error by guessing the right way to stop Serginho's penalty to keep the score intact. From then on, JDT started to gather their composure and were able to fend off Kashima with the likes of Afiq Fazail and Syafiq Ahmad providing the hard shift in midfield.
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Just when everything seemed to be going to plan and JDT were eyeing a 0-0 at half time, disaster struck in the 43rd minute when Taiki Hirato's unassuming cross from the right hand side evaded everyone and bounced right into goal beyond a confused Farizal for Kashima to lead 1-0.
Kashima came out in the second half looking like they mean business and quickly forced Farizal into a double save from Kanamori and Serginho. Then a mistake from Adam Nor Azlin almost allowed Serginho the path to goal but the former recovered brilliantly to stop the Brazilian.
But the 23-year-old Brazilian wasn't to be denied in the 56th minute when he collected a poor touch off La'Vere Corbin-Ong to drive towards goal before unleashing an unstoppable shot from long range that sailed into the top corner, giving Farizal little chance of saving it.
Gonzalo Cabrera who is so often the torn in any team JDT played against in Malaysia, was almost anonymous in the match as he found his dribbling abilities thwarted by solid defending. The same could also be said of Safawi Rasid with Mora deciding that Akhyar Rashid should get a run out in place of the left footer in the 79th minute.
The former Kedah man had an immediate impact, winning the free kick in the 80th minute that saw JDT reducing the deficit through Diogo, who calmly chested down Hariss' pass before slamming the ball past Kwoun. The prolific striker continues his hot streak in front of goal, that is his fourth goal in five matches thus far for JDT.
But that was all JDT could offer but they will take plenty of confidence in the scoreline although that perhaps isn't a true reflection of how the game went. Individual mistakes remains and problem and need to be cut out if JDT want to get their first ACL point in the next match against Gyeongnam FC on March 12.
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