Tan Sri Dato' Hj Hassan Yunos Stadium was packed to the rafters as Johor Darul Takzim welcomed Pahang for the first leg of the 2013 Malaysia FA Cup semi-final and beat them 1-0.
Leonel Nunez's sublime finish in the first period sealed the victory for the Southern Tigers as the solitary goal of the evening.
JDT was the first to threaten and it was Nunez who registered the first meaningful shot of the match. In the eighthminute, JDT earned a free kick on the edge of Pahang’s penalty box. While Nunez’s low strike managed to bend its way around the Pahang wall, the shot was weak and easily claimed by Khairul Azhan.
The home side could have had the stuffing knocked out of them immediately after, but referee decided against showing Farid Ramli the red card. The JDT left back, went in two footed on Azamuddin Akil and was lucky that no connection were made.
While one leftback was given a reprieve, the opposing one was having a torrid time. Shahrizan Salleh will not look back at the first half with much fondness as time and again, JDT found plenty of space on their right hand side. Three times JDT found a player free behind Shahrizan but always, the final ball was poor.
It was no surprise that when the home side took the lead in the 21st minute of the first half, it was Nunez who scored. While the Argentine gets his name on the score sheet for a wonderful first time shot that curled into the top corner, Norshahrul Idlan Talaha will take all the credit for creating that goal. His quick feet opened up the space for him to run at Pahang’s defence and his final ball didn’t disappoint.
JDT were dangerous from wide areas as Norshahrul and Nurul Azwan Roya continuously made in-roads every time they received the ball. Comparatively, Pahang were relying on the pace of their counter attack. Matias Conti’s physical presence needed to win headers for the pacy men of Azamuddin and R. Gopinathan to chase.
Play turned scrappy towards the end of the first half as first, AmirulHadi Zainal hacked down Nurul Azwan and then Jasazrin Jamaludin took down Conti. Both players received their caution from the referee and hads to watch their steps for the rest of the match.
JDT continued to find freedom on their right and Pahang’s left hand side. They had further chances to increase the lead at the end of the first period but Norshahrul and Jasazrin’s shots were dealt by the visitors. The Pahang goalkeeper, already overworked in the first half, had to rely on Razman Roslan to clear Jasazrin’s shot off the line.
At the start of the secondhalf, Pahang put up a better fight against JDT. No longer were the home side allowed the time on the ball to pick their passes as more protection was given to Shahrizan on the left. Even though their defensive strength grew, their attacking play was poor.
Despite that, JDT still managed to create chances to score. A mad scramble inside the Pahang penalty box in the 57th minute saw the ball pinging around. Nurul Azwan eventually got a shot in and Damion Stewart had to clear it off the line.
Dire, would be the right word to describe the rest of the second half. Both teams cancelled each other out and play was concentrated in the middle of the pitch. It took just over 20 minutes for something of note to happen in the second period.
In the 85th minute, Conti curled one shot from the edge of the JDT’s box but it didn’t have enough pace to beat Al-Hafiz in JDT’s goal. In the next minute, Conti should have put Pahang level when he broke free from his markers from a set piece but his header crashed against the post - the big forward also failed to finish with the follow-up from the rebound.
Centreback, Stewart had the last chance to equal the scores in the final minute of the match but air-kicks his shot after JDT had failed to deal with Hafiz Kamal’s free kick. That was the last chance of the match and at full time, the score remained the same as it was at half time.
The Southern Tigers will be relieved to come away with a win and not concede an away goal. It will be a tough task for the Elephants in the second leg and based on tonight’s performance, it’s a big mountain for them to climb to qualify for the Malaysia FA Cup final.