They say when you win a title you can afford to let your hair down just a little; Safiq Rahim and Amirul Hadi took the metaphor a little further on the eve of JDT’s crunch AFC Cup quarterfinal, first-leg, meeting with South China.
At the team’s final training session ahead of Tuesday’s match eyes were quite
literally turned as the pair rocked up with their hair a new shade of blue, more electric than the dark blue of the club’s crest, mind you, but a bold statement nonetheless.
The players can be forgiven though for having a little bit of fun in the wake of wrapping up their third consecutive Malaysian Super League title last Friday as they hopped on a plane to Hong Kong the very next morning to continue the defence of their continental crown.
Whilst the players were in a relaxed mood pre-match, coach Mario Gomez cut a far more serious character as he spoke of his desire to build on the club’s astonishing run of recent success as they switch focus from domestic to more broader duties.
“Of course we are delighted to have won the Malaysian Super League again and that was our first target but now we have a new target,” he said.
“We have already won three titles but now we have another target and this is the one we want, this is different because it is international football and we want to win every match, every competition that we play in.”
The two clubs are more than familiar with each after they clashed at the same stage of this tournament last season – that after Gomez had begun the same campaign as coach of South China before making the switch to Johor.
After the Hong Kong outfit pushed his club all the way to a 1-1 draw in the first leg, JDT eventually prevailed 3-1 in the return on their way to their maiden continental title but Gomez knows that the Hong Kong outfit are a tricky prospect, especially at home in front of what’s expected to be a vocal crowd.
“We don’t see ourselves as favourites, we have the same chance as South China do so it’s important to make a strong start as we know how tough they are at home.
“Some players have changed from last year and they have two new strikers but we know that this is a quality team who will cause us problems.
“This is our new target though, to win this competition and to do that we must control this first game which we will aim to win as we do at any time whether home or away,” he said.
One man who played in those matches last season, Hariss Harun, also believes that this is far from the easy task that most are predicting.
“We know these two matches are not going to be easy at all, they gave us a very tough time last year and as the defending champion we’ve already seen how everybody raises their game to try and beat us.
“We have a job to do here and even though we know it’s a difficult one we’re fully ready and confident that we can do that,” the Singaporean said.
The hosts meanwhile believe that they’re fighting for a bigger cause than just the glory of their own club with South China coach Ricardo Rambo calling on the whole football community of Hong Kong to get behind his team.
“This is a very important event not just for the club and the players but also for the people of Hong Kong and this is not just about South China against JDT but it’s Hong Kong against Malaysia and we want to make all the people of Hong Kong proud of this team,” he said.
The hosts have a couple of key injury doubts with forward Chan Siu Ki ruled out due to personal reasons and goalkeeper Tsang Man Fai struggling with a hand injury whilst JDT are likely to be without midfielder Azniee Taib who is dealing with a knee strain.
Outside of those concerns though both teams are expected to be close to full
strength and after Rambo’s call to arms there’s expected to be a strong crowd
nestled into the compact Mongkok Stadium, set against the backdrop of Lion Rock mountain.
Wherever JDT travels they always have a strong backing and that can also be
expected in Hong Kong and hopefully most of those fans will be fixed on taking in another dominant performance by the regional powerhouse rather than checking to see how the blue hair spray sported by their star duo is holding up.