Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) completed their Malaysia Cup group stage in fine fashion after a comprehensive 3-1 win over Selangor at Tan Sri Haji Hassan Yunos Stadium on Saturday night. The win gave the Southern Tigers the top spot in the group, which also meant that they avoid Kedah in the quarterfinal stage and will instead, go up against Melaka United.
Ulisses Morais sprang a few surprises with his team selection, electing to give the likes of Safiq Rahim and Safawi Rasid a breather after their respective international commitments. Gary Steven Robbat was given a rare start, as did Hasbullah Abu Bakar and Junior Eldstal.
JDT started well and took an early lead through Mohammed Ghaddar, capitalising on Gonzalo Cabrera's well-taken cross from the left hand side to slam home the opening goal of the night. However, Selangor would strike back through Rufino Segovia before Gary repaid Morais' faith with a thumping header before half time. Ghaddar to would grab his second of the night in the second half to seal a comfortable 3-1 win.
After the match, Morais was quick to praise the mental strength of his team to not let Rufino's equaliser to dampen their motivation but was also at pains to explain that his team's fitness is not at the best level.
"It was a good first half. Maybe at ten minutes of the game, if our finishing had been better, maybe we would have been 2-0 or 3-0 up by that time. After Selangor scored, we were a bit down but we managed to quickly get the lead back. In the second half, we try to do the same thing but it was not possible."
"After the 3-1, we try to control the game because our physical condition is not so good. The first game after a long break is always not easy," said Morais in the post-match press conference.
This is the fourth time that the two teams have faced each other this season - twice in Super League and twice in Malaysia Cup. Selangor have won twice and drew the other, which made this victory all the more sweeter for JDT and Morais.
The win also ensured a tougher path in the final for Selangor as they will now go up against another contender in Kedah. While JDT's prize for winning the group was a quarterfinal match-up against Melaka. Comparatively, there's no doubt that JDT has got the easier run-in.
"We don't have many victories over Selangor this season and after four matches, it was good to beat them. The win was also important to stay in the first place of the group," added Morais.
Hang Jebat Stadium will be the next place of battle for Morais and his team, after which they will welcome the visit of Kelantan to Johor Bahru for a Super League match that will quickly be followed by a long night of celebrations to mark their fourth consecutive league title triumph.