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Ceres v JDT: Protection alongside Afiq the key to success in Bacolod logo 31-05-2017

An uphill task awaits Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) in the AFC Cup ASEAN zone semi-final second leg in Bacolod City as they look to deliver the knockout blow to Ceres-Negros FC and advance to the zonal final of the 2017 competition.

The former AFC Cup champions take a 3-2 lead into the second leg but crucially, the two conceded back at Tan Sri Hj Hassan Yunos Stadium two weeks ago remains a big stumbling block. Should Ceres find the back of the net at Panaad Park and Football Stadium, then JDT could be facing an unwanted early exit from the competition.

In the earlier match played in Johor Bahru, Risto Vidakovic had his team sitting back and allowing JDT the possession that they want in their last and second third of the pitch. Ceres executed the plan to perfection and managed to sprung dangerous counter attacks from every change of possession that they could make.

The full backs of Fazly Mazlan and S. Kunanlan were targeted as the weak points with Jose Porteria and Iain Ramsay working tiredlessly to receive the ball on the counter attack behind the two full backs. The goals by Fernando Rodriguez and Bienvenido Maradon both came from movements out wide on the break.

Benjamin Mora and his coaching staff would have gone through countless viewing of the recording of that match and come up with a counter plan to ensure there's better protection for his defence this time around. In selecting an ultra-attacking line-up in the opening leg, Afiq Fazail was completely overran in midfield and he needs the support for the return fixture.

Which should see JDT's goal scorer in last week's win over PKNS FC be entrusted to be paired with Afiq. Amirulhadi Zainal was the toast of the team against PKNS but it's his more defensive nous that would be required to ensure there would be cover on the flanks if Fazly or Kunanlan do push up.

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If anything, Ceres has shown themselves to be very capable shooters from outside the box and when Maradon was taking aim in the first leg, there weren't anyone closing him down or to put him under pressure. Which allowed the Spaniard to thump the ball into the top corner unchallenged. The onus is on Amirulhadi and Afiq to share the pressuring duties when any Ceres players lurk at the edge of the box.

Another factor that works in favour of JDT is the availability of Aidil Zafuan. The experienced centre back was sorely missed in the first leg after youngster Dominic Tan was shown to be a bundle of nerves in that match. Aidil's presence would immediately raised the confidence of the defenders around him and limit the uncertainties that can be caused by the lack of it.

Mora will not have new signing Mohammed Ghaddar available for selection and there's a possibility that Gabriel Guerra could be pushed into a striker role with Hazwan Bakri only starting from the bench. Elsewhere, the Mexican is expected to persist with his usual selection.

In the history of the competition in the last five years in the knockout round over two legs, only two teams that won the first leg and gone on to lose the tie on aggregate. In that sense, the competition's history is on the side of JDT but anything can happen in football and records are meant to be broken anyway.

Home United awaits the winners of this tie in the zonal final and judging from what transpired in the first leg, expect plenty of goal mouth action in the second leg.

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