Tough task awaits JDT in Group I

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia League (M-League) giants Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) can expect a tough time in the group stage of the 2023 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League competition.

In the draw conducted at the AFC House in Bukit Jalil today, coach Esteban Solari’s Southern Tigers were drawn in Group I with two-time winners Ulsan Hyundai FC of South Korea, four-time Japanese League (J-League) winners Kawasaki Frontale and Thai champions BG Pathum United.

However, JDT should not fear Ulsan Hyundai and Kawasaki Frontale as both these teams failed to beat the nine-time consecutive Super League champions, who topped Group I despite being pitted with the two teams, last season.

JDT, who were coached by Hector Bidoglio then, won both ties against Ulsan Hyundai and had a win and a draw against Kawasaki Frontale.

This will be JDT’s fifth foray into the AFC Champions League since making their debut in the most prestigious Asian club-level competition in 2019.

Last season, JDT made history when they reached the round of 16, where they lost 5-0 to eventual champions Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan.

Urawa Red Diamonds should have no problems getting past the group stage this season after being drawn in Group J with Wuhan Three Towns (China), Pohang Steelers (South Korea) and Hanoi FC (Vietnam).

The two popular Saudi Arabian clubs, namely the Cristiano Ronaldo-led Al Nassr and Neymar-helmed Al Hilal SFC have been drawn into Group E and Group D respectively.

In another development, Malaysian Super League runners-up and third-placed teams last season – Terengganu FC and Sabah FC – were drawn in Group G and Group H of the 2023/2024 AFC Cup competition.

The Turtles, under coach Tomislav Steinbruckner, face a tricky path after being drawn in Group G with Bali United (Indonesia), Stallion Laguna (the Philippines) and Australia Central Coast Mariners.

Sabah, under coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee, are in Group H with Haiphong FC (Vietnam), Hougang United (Singapore) and PSM Makassar (Indonesia).

Kim Swee, though happy with the draw, has warned his team not to underestimate the other teams in their group as they get ready to make their bow in the tournament.

He said he has not set the team any targets, except to make it into the knockout stages, adding that he wants his team to emulate the feats of JDT and Kuala Lumpur City FC, who had emerged as champions and runners-up of the AFC Cup previously.

“We want to make JDT as our inspiration after they emerged as champions and make KL City FC as a (symbol) of hope for our players since KL City managed to make the final,” he said when met at the draw at the AFC House today. –Bernama