JDT can beat Gamba Osaka in ACL playoff - coach Benjamin Mora
BANGKOK -- Johor Darul Ta'zim's new head coach Benjamin Mora hopes his "fighting tigers" can cause an upset against Gamba Osaka in the AFC Champions League (ACL) playoff in Japan next week after their penalty shootout victory over Bangkok United in the second preliminary round on Tuesday.
The Malaysian champions prevailed in Bangkok, despite the bitter blow of conceding a last-minute equaliser, just when it seemed that skipper Safiq Rahim's strike in the second period of extra time would take them through.
JDT managed to put aside their disappointment and scored five out of their six penalty kicks in the shootout, while goalkeeper Farizal Marlias saved twice.
"It's a boost for our confidence and our mindset has to be to go to Japan to try and win the match," Mora told ESPN FC. "Winning is everything for us. JDT is a winning team, these players are winners and, of course, I'm a winner, too.
"The most important thing for me is the mindset and the motivation. The players have to know that they are champions, and they are in a team with a culture of winning. So, coming to Thailand before and not having the best results was a wake-up call for them to look at the future. Now, they have done it and they can improve and evolve as a team."
After seeing his side recover their composure and earn a vital win, following defeats in Thailand at the same stage in the last two years, Mora highlighted the importance of the team's spirit.
"I think we were full of courage and full of willingness to fight against a very good team, who played very good football," said Mora. "We studied the opponent a lot and we have a great team of fighting tigers. We also did a good job tactically.
"In the first half, we had two or three chances. After that, Bangkok United were attacking us, but we made a shift in midfield so they could not have the ball easily.
"I think we deserved to win because we fought all the game. We were unlucky to concede the goal right at the end. But I was confident that my team would come back. We knew we could win.
"We came all the way here, it was a long journey. We wanted to go to Japan with all our hearts. Sometimes, you win games with the mind and the heart and we also did a great job on the tactical side."
Skipper Safiq looked ahead to the Gamba Osaka game, also hoping to cause a shock. "They're a very strong team, but in football, anything can happen," Safiq told ESPN FC. "We will try to plan and prepare well so that we can do something in Japan."
Regarding the blow of conceding in the last minute after appearing to have found the winning goal, Safiq added, "I believed we could still go through. We had the penalty shootout so we still had a chance. Sometimes, football is crazy but if you stay confident, focused and follow the instructions, you get what you deserve."
The winners of the playoff in Japan on Feb. 7 will join Group H in the ACL, alongside Adelaide United, Jiangsu Suning and Jeju United.
Gamba Osaka won the 2008 ACL after defeating Adelaide United in the final, and finished fourth in the 2017 J.League.
Bangkok-based Paul Murphy has lived in Asia for a decade, writing for ESPN FC since 2014. He is a former Daily Express sub-editor. @PaulMurphyBKK