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Monday, September 12, 2016, 12:00

HK's South China looking for AFC Cup revenge

By KLC Lau
HK's South China looking for AFC Cup revenge
Johor Darul Ta'zim have played in Hong Kong before and defeated South China in the 2015 AFC Cup competition. (Photo provided to China Daily by KLC Lau)

HONG KONG - The AFC Cup knock out draw has thrown up a mouthwatering tie in the form of defending AFC Cup champions Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) of Malaysia and Hong Kong veterans South China facing off over two legs in the quarter finals on Sept 13. JDT will be heavy opponents as they have simply been in scintillating form in both domestic and continental football. The two teams also have a history and know each other well as they locked horns in the 2015 edition of the AFC Cup whereby JDT triumphed 4-2 on aggregate and this momentum took them onto becoming overall champions.

But also this year the Malaysians are clear favourites to triumph over two legs. JDT, under the guidance of Argentine manager Mario Gomez, have amassed an impressive trophy haul over the past couple of years with two back-to-back Malaysian league titles. They are so far unbeaten in both the AFC Cup and in the domestic league, so their fans expect nothing but a clear victory.

South China’s manager Ricardo Rambo acknowledges the strength in depth that JDT have as he tells China Daily: "Johor are really good up front with 11 (Jorge Pereyra Díaz) and 19 (Juan Martín Lucero). Our strengths on our part are to exploit their mistakes and seize the opportunity. Preparation is going well and there is a high spirit in the squad. South China as a group will use solid team work to beat JDT and not repeat last year’s mistakes.”

HK's South China looking for AFC Cup revenge
JDT have fanatic support and many of their fans will travel to Hong Kong. (Photo provided to China Daily by KLC Lau)

HK's South China looking for AFC Cup revenge
JDT's fans are also known as the "Boys of Straits". (Photo provided to China Daily by KLC Lau)

HK's South China looking for AFC Cup revenge
The 'Boys of Straits' will lend huge vocal support to their beloved JDT team. (Photo provided to China Daily by KLC Lau)

The great irony behind this match is that Mario Gomez left South China to take the reins at JDT and the rest is history with the Malaysians making great strides both on and off the field, especially with the backing of Tunku Ismail Idris, the crown prince of the state of Johor. JDT also enjoy near fanatical support in the form of their hardcore followers “The Boys of Straits”, who will no doubt travel to Hong Kong in significant numbers.

Blasting in the goals for JDT are strikers Jorge Pereyra Díaz and Juan Martín Lucero who are both in double digits for their overall goal hauls for the season with 15 and 13 goals respectively at the time of writing. Also known under the nickname Southern Tigers, Johor have been the in-form team in the AFC Cup this season with having won all their games with an incredible attack (they won their round of 16 game 7-2) and a stingy defence which has only conceded three goals.

The home side, South China, have looked like a shadow of their former selves and despite high expectations, they did not win a single trophy and ended their last season with a whimper. Although the Caroliners are AFC Cup regulars, they have always fallen short to win the tournament, with the closest being a final seven years ago when they attempted to overhaul a 2-1 first leg loss to Kuwait SC in front of a capacity crowd at Hong Kong Stadium. The second leg ended in defeat and South China crashed out 3-1 on aggregate.

Simply reaching the  quarter finals this year is a victory for South China after a wild ride through the group stages where they contrived to lose their first three games, but after a change of management, whereby Brazilian Ricardo Rambo replaced Casemiro Mior, they managed to rally and win their final three games to sneak into the round of 16 where they defeated Ceres of the Philippines 1-0. South China do have a greater resilience to them and look more settled and stable as a side, so they will try to cut off the midfield distribution king pin Hariss Harun, who is the only Singaporean in Johor’s squad.

HK's South China looking for AFC Cup revenge
South China lost two domestic cup finals last season. (Photo provided to China Daily by KLC Lau)

HK's South China looking for AFC Cup revenge
South China will be looking to Ryan Griffiths to score vital goals over the two legs. (Photo provided to China Daily by KLC Lau)

With JDT holding significant advantages in all areas of the field, South China will be looking to experienced players like strikers Ryan Griffiths and Chan Siu Ki to plunder a goal or two to give their team a chance in the return leg. Ryan Griffiths has had vast experience playing in Asian leagues and aside from his time with Beijing Guoan, he played for Sarawak in the Malaysian Super League. South China will also rest their hopes on new Serbian forward Nikola Komazec, as well as skilled Cameroonian right winger Awal. Centre back Bojan Malisic completes the number of foreign players that the club is allowed to field in the competition.

Veteran defender and captain Chan Wai Ho will be looking to hold the line and it could be a very long night for the entire South China defence. JDT were probably the team South China wanted to avoid but to be champions they will seek to win or at least draw at home and then hope for a near miracle when they travel to Malaysia for the second leg which is set for September 20th.

The match will kick off at 8 pm at Mong Kok Stadium on Tuesday, Sept 13, with ticket sales starting from 10 am. Prices range from HK$ 40 to HK$ 125.

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