Johor Darul Ta'zim stayed in the second place in Group H after only managing a scoreless draw against Tampines Rovers at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Tuesday night. With Song Lam Nghe An dropping two points against Persija Jakarta, it was a lost opportunity for JDT to make up grounds to the current group leaders.
The Southern Tigers' AFC Cup campaign is of course hit by registration limitations which denies them the chance to field Marcos Antonio and Gonzalo Cabrera. With Jorge Pereyra Diaz gone, only Hariss Harun and Luciano Figueroa are the only import players that can feature for them until the next registration phase.
After a grueling 120 minutes against Sabah at the weekend in Malaysia FA Cup action, Raul Longhi made the decision to rotate the team, what with an important Super League clash against title challengers Terengganu FC on the horizon.
"The match against Tampines Rovers was a tough match. We had problems such as several players having injuries. Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) still worked hard to continue the match and made attempts on goal. Their goalkeeper always made long passes, which was good for us but we did not have many opportunities in the second half."
"Our players tried to play short passes in the match and it was quite difficult on a synthetic pitch. But that's football. Our pitch is different and I expect Tampines Rovers to have difficulty playing on our pitch considering they have always played on a synthetic pitch.
"There were several players rested due to rotation because we will have a very important game in Terengganu on Saturday and that was the clear difference in the game. They already went through a hectic schedule. That was the problem and we needed to rest them," said Longhi in the post-match press conference.
Nazmi Faiz, Amirulhadi Zainal, Syafiq Ahmad and Darren Lok were among the many players given a run-out and if their performance against Tampines is to be taken as sole indication, the usual first teamers would not have to look over their shoulders too often.
Nazmi in particular was a peripheral figure throughout the first half, his only notable contribution in the game was a high foot challenge that earned him a yellow card. Longhi decided to replace Nazmi with Safiq Rahim at the start of the second half shared the same sentiment.
The chance for JDT to qualify to the knockout stage remains very high as they still have home games against Tampines and Song Lam still to come. But for now, their attention turns back to the Super League.