It was another miserable night for Johor Darul Ta’zim in the AFC Champions League, as they dropped points for a fourth consecutive round. The Southern Tigers went down to Shandong Luneng, and are now left on the brink of elimination. Here are five things we observed from this one.
#1 JDT fail to capitalize on a solid start
It was a case of the same old for Johor Darul Ta’zim, as they failed to capitalize on a good start yet again. The Malaysian side were later left to rue their chances as they went down to Shandong Luneng by just a goal to nil.
JDT applied lots of early pressure on their opponents, playing much of their football inside the opposing half. The Southern Tigers even created a couple of good opportunities as well but failed to find the back of the net.
While it was the Southeast Asian side who looked the more dominant in the early stages, it was Shandong Luneng who took the lead courtesy of their brilliant striker.
#2 Graziano Pelle strikes again
AFC Champions League 2019: Johor Darul Ta’zim 0-1 Shandong Luneng (Graziano Pelle 22′)
Graziano Pelle was a relatively unknown footballer plying his trade in the Netherlands before Southampton picked him up. The Italian became an instant hit with the Saints and even went on to represent his country in the UEFA Euro 2016. In 2016 itself, Pelle was picked up by Shandong Luneng with whom he has been ever since.
The Italian is enjoying a stunning 2019 AFC Champions League campaign and has scored six times in the group stage. He was on hand again to give Shandong the lead in the first half, against the run of play, when he scored from close range.
The former Premier League star was presented with several opportunities later on to increase his goal tally. In the end, however, his solitary goal was enough to ensure all three points for his side.
#3 Song Wiejie with miss of the round?
A goal on the break sprang Shandong Luneng into life. The Chinese Super League side suddenly found themselves leading in a match in which they had been on the backfoot. The newfound confidence allowed them to find spaces with much more ease, as they looked to exploit their opponents’ desperation.
Catching the much advanced JDT backline out of position, Shandong Luneng created another great opportunity shortly after the opener. The ball was played out wide quickly before the cut back found Song Wiejie inside the box with just the goalkeeper between him and the goal. However, somehow, the Shandong striker dragged his shot wide, instead of slotting it into the back of the net.
Thankfully for his team, Wiejie’s miss didn’t come back to haunt them as they registered yet another win in the AFC Champions League group stage.
#4 Off night for Diogo
Johor Darul Ta’zim brought in former Buriram United star Diogo during the transfer window, hoping to add flair to their frontline. The Brazilian has been effective for the Malaysia Super League side in domestic competitions. However, he couldn’t recapture his best form in front of the goal while facing Shandong Luneng, missing some good chances in the process.
Diogo was first provided with an opportunity early during the first half. However, the in-form striker tried to be too accurate with his shot and ended up dragging it wide. A rash challenge and a booking followed and the 31-year-old was finally pulled off the pitch early in the second half.
The Brazil-born striker already has two goals in the competition and will be looking to add further to his tally during the next two matchdays.
#5 What next for JDT?
Johor Darul Ta’zim’s Alistair Edwards on the club’s AFC Champions League progress
Yet another loss in the AFC Champions League group stage leaves JDT in a precarious position. The Malaysian side have now last three of their four games and have only managed to draw the remaining one.
As a consequence, JDT have just the one point with only two more matches left to play in this round. As a result, elimination from the competition is a real possibility at this stage for them.
In order to qualify for the knockout stages, the Southern Tigers will have to come up with nothing short of a miracle. They need maximum points from their remaining matches while also hope that the other results go their way.
Meanwhile, they next face current ACL Champions Kashima Antlers on May 8. Anything other than a win would see them bid farewell to the competition.