Johor Darul Ta’zim coach Mario Gomez has praised his players for their against-the-odds victory over South China in Tuesday’s AFC Cup quarter-final second leg match in Hong Kong.
The sides played out a 1-1 draw in the first leg in Johor Bahru in August, meaning that South China started the second leg leading due to the away goals rule.
However, the hosts failed to make home advantage count for them and Johor won the match 3-1 despite losing striker Luciano Figueroa to a red card in the first half.
“It was a very hard game because South China are a very good team and we had to play for an hour with 10 men,” Gomez told the AFC website.
“We showed very good character and our organisation was very important as South China kept attacking, but they only had two real chances in the second half. Our discipline was very important.”
Johor took the lead just 26 minutes into the second leg when Mahalli Jasuli opened the scoring, but Mahama Awal replied for South China to level the scores in the match and over aggregate.
Safee Sali put the visitors ahead again in the 30th minute, but South China were handed a life-line when his strike partner Figueroa was red-carded just six minutes later.
Johor extended their lead when Sali scored his second in first half injury time, and kept the hosts at bay throughout the second half to win the match 3-1 and 4-2 on aggregate.
“I told them at half-time that the first 10 minutes was very important not to get another red card because with nine men maybe it would be too difficult,” added Gomez.
“In professional football, 60 minutes with 10 men is a long time and at 0-0 maybe it would have been too difficult. At 3-1 we had a chance; the goal before half-time was very important.
“I’m very happy with the result and to be in the semi-finals. It is history for Johor.”
The victory means they have become the first ever Malaysian side to reach the semi-finals of the AFC Cup. They will face Kuwait’s Qadsia SC in the semi-finals.