A brace of goals from forward Safee Sali inspired Johor Darul Ta’zim to a 3-1 victory over Hong Kong’s South China in the second leg of their AFC Cup quarter-final..
The victory gives JDT a 4-2 win on aggregate after a 1-all draw in the first leg, and sees them become the first side from Malaysia to reach the last four of the competition.
The Malaysian champions took the lead halfway through the first half thanks to Mahalli Jasuli, but that slender advantage was cancelled out by Cameroonian forward Mahama Awal two minutes later.
On the half hour mark, Safee scored his first of the night, before Johor’s Luciano Figueroa was red carded for an off-the-ball incident. In first half stoppage time, Safee scored his second of the night leaving the side from Hong Kong with a lot to do in the second half.
The second 45 minutes at the Mong Kok Stadium was dominated by the hosts, but a combination fine defensive work from the visitors and their own profligacy on front of goal meant the score remained unchanged.
The Malaysian side started the stronger of the two and nearly took the lead in the first few minutes after Safiq Rahim’s cross from the left flank was diverted to his own goal by Chan Siu Kwan, only for goalkeeper Cristian Mora to save the defender's blushes with a fine save.
On 26 minutes Leandro Velazquez dispossessed Serbian Bojan Malisic just outside the penalty area and played in Jasuli, who gave the goalkeeper no chance by curling in an effort into the top corner.
Shortly after the resumption, the hosts were back on an even keel after Chan Siu Ki's corner was directed goalwards by Malisic. The initial effort was saved by Johor keeper Izham Tarmizi, but the rebound fell kindly to Awal, who bundled it in from short range.
Johor responded immediately and were back in front when Velazquez slipped in Figueroa, who set up Safee to score with an easy finish from within the six yard box.
With the match seemingly slipping away from them, South China were handed a reprieve when Figueroa was given his marching orders for a violent confrontation with defender Cheung Chi Yung.
On the stroke of half-time, Johor scored their third away goal of the night when Safee pounced on a loose ball in the box following a miscommunication between defender Jack Sealy and Mora, and the Malaysian international tapped the ball into the open net.
South China dominated the second half but failed to create many clear-cut opportunities, despite their numerical advantage.
They were handed a lifeline in the 86th minute when second half substitute Liang Zicheng was fouled in the box, but Malisic missed with the resulting penalty to end any chance they had of a late rally.