KUALA LUMPUR – Super League champions Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) Saturday created football history after they became the first Malaysian team to win the Asian Football Confederation Cup (AFC Cup).
The sole goal by Argentinian import Leandro Velazquez in the 22nd minute of the final against FC Istiklol of Tajikistan at the Republican Central Stadium in Dushanbe, Tajikistan was good enough for the Southern Tigers to lift the Cup.
The victory also erased their past disappointment when they were knocked out at the group stage when making their debut in the prestigious competition as Johor FC in 2009.
As champions, they will be bringing home the AFC Cup which was presented by Sultan Ibrahim Almarhum Sultan Iskandar Al-Haj of Johor himself. They also took home US$350,000 (RM1.502 million), the prize money for the champions, while FC Istiklol were richer by US$250,000 (RM1.072 million) as runners-up.
Even sweeter, JDT captain Safiq Rahim was named as the Most Valuable Player while FC Istiklol captain Vasiev Dilshod was declared Man-of-the-Match.
This is the third title to be won by JDT this season after the Charity Shield (Sultan Ahmad Shah Cup ) which they picked up after defeating Pahang 2-0 at the Tan Sri Hassan Yunos Stadium, Larkin on Jan 31 and the Super League 2015 trophy.
In today’s final, playing on artificial turf clearly gave the hosts an advantage which they used to control the early part of the game but poor finishing by their frontline let them down.
But luck seemed to favour JDT as it was they who went ahead in the 22nd minute via Velazquez’s goal, much to the delight of the 500-odd fans who made their way to Dushanbe to support the team.
The goal came from a corner kick taken by Safiq Rahim which was parried away by FC Istiklol keeper Nikola Stosic only to see Velazquez pounce on the rebound and fire home a piledriver with his left feet from outside the penalty box.
Shell-shocked, the FC Istiklol players regrouped and threw everything they had but JDT’s defence in the hands of Aidil Zafuan Abdul Radzak and Marcos Antonio proved impenetrable and the scoreline stood until the half-time whistle.
On resumption, the hosts wasted no time in going after JDT’s goalmouth and even saw Dzhalilov Manuchehr Jalilov finding the back of the net in the 51st minute but referee Minoru Tojo of Japan disallowed it because FC Istiklol captain Vasiev Dilshod was in an offside position.
Jalilov did the same in the dying minutes but Minoru again disallowed his second attempt because of the offside rule. The 1-0 scoreline stood till the final whistle.