Tuesday March 11 2019 will forever be a special day in the history of Johor Darul Ta'zim as a football club. When the players step onto the pitch at 8:30pm tomorrow, it will mark Larkin being used as the home venue in the AFC Champions League group stage. Just like it was a momentous occasion when JDT played Kashima Antlers, the second match will have added meaning.
The stadium is remembered as the venue where Japan claimed their first ever ticket to the FIFA World Cup finals, the five consecutive Super League titles as well as numerous memorable moments from all them matches that have taken place there. The match against Gyeongnam FC will probably overtake all of them as it showed the progress the club has made.
For head coach Benjamin Mora, he does not want his players to completely separate themselves from the anticipated high emotion that will come with the game but rather harness that force to show that JDT do belong at this level of football.
"Professional footballers, my players, JDT are all human and these kind of situation where it's everything new for them and for us, of course it gets emotional. But the thing is, we must compartmentalised these emotion to help us and guide us to work as a team. That is one thing that distinguished JDT for a long time. Now I see the team stronger than ever."
"Expectations were going to happen for JDT when we go into the Champions League. If we remember our first goals, we were only trying to get to the play-offs and try to get into the group stage. Now we are in the group stage, of course there is pressure. But it's a good kind of pressure that you need in football," said Mora in the pre-match press conference.
One player who has been missing from the JDT team since he went off injured in the opening game of the 2019 season against Perak is Ignacio 'Natxo' Insa. Mora is giving Insa every chance of being involved as the team undoubtedly improved whenever he's playing.
"About Natxo Insa, we need to speak to the medical department the player because he's the most important person to tell us how he feels in his recovery. He's training now with the team and trying his best to be ready. We need Natxo Insa as much as we need any player in JDT. We hope he will feel better in training today and hope to be able to use him in some minutes," added Mora.
As for club captain Hariss Harun, he's under no illusion as to the size of the task that awaits JDT despite both of them being newcomers in the competititon. It is generally accepted that Korean team are better than a Malaysian team in today's football and that is the bridge which the midfielder wants his team to cross.
Against Kashima, they showed that they can compete with not only a Japanese team but also one which won the competition last season. The onus is on the players to take plenty of heart from their past performance and rise to the occasion against Gyeongnam.
"I think it will be a tough game but this is one more challenge for us. We can take confidence from how well we did in the last game. We have some momentum from the last two games and we have to keep it going. Playing in our stadium is almost special and playing at this prestigious level make it even more special," said Hariss in the same PC.
Looking at the teams in the group, if JDT were thinking of achieving their first ever win in the group stage, then the home game against fellow newcomer Gyeongnam is probably relatively the most winnable tie. If the fans come in droves and back the team, there's no reason why more great memories can be made in the Tan Sri Dato Haji Hassan Yunos Stadium.
Follow Goal Malaysia on Instagram