Johor Baru: Juan Lucero’s hat-trick helped defending champions Johor Darul Ta’zim cruise into the AFC Cup quarter-finals after a comprehensive 7-2 defeat of tournament debutants Kaya FC of the Philippines on Wednesday.
The Argentine striker opened the scoring on the quarter-hour mark before a penalty from compatriot Jorge Pereyra Diaz (pictured) and a quick-fire double from Azammuddin Akil put the hosts 4-0 up at the interval.
OJ Porteria did reduce the deficit to three goals eight minutes into the second half but Lucero restored the four-goal cushion in the next attack before Mahali Jasuli made it 6-1 to Johor.
Lucero completed his hat-trick on the 70th minute before Antonio Ugarte scored a second for Kaya in the final minute as the score ended 7-2 with Johor sending out a stark message to their AFC Cup quarter-final opponents.
"Qualifying for the quarter-finals is important, and I am happy and proud to see our team play well, especially in the first half,” said JDT head coach Mario Gomez.
"We showed we can play without Safiq Rahim, who is injured. Amirulhadi came in his place and did well, and he is also becoming an important player in the team.
"It was difficult playing on a wet pitch, but we handled the conditions well apart from one or two mistakes we made. It has been three months of heavy work where we played a match every three days, so we are looking forward to the mid-season break."
The recently-crowned Malaysia FA Cup winners were on top from the outset and started the rout on 15 minutes after Kaya captain Aly Borromeo fouled Diaz outside the box. Lucero stepped up to send the resulting direct free kick into the net and put the hosts ahead.
Things went from bad to worse for the United Football League outfit when Borromeo was judged to have fouled Diaz inside the box eight minutes later. Diaz stepped up to drill the spot kick into the bottom of the net and double the lead before a swift counter attack in the 33rd minute led to a third goal for the defending champions.
Izham Tarmizi started the move with a long clearance that led to Diaz racing down the left and crossed for Azammuddin to slide home inside the box.
Azammuddin scored his second seven minutes later when he produced a delightful shot from the edge of the penalty area that sailed into the top far corner of the goal as Johor went into the break four goals ahead.
Kaya pulled one goal back eight minutes into the second half as an Aidil clearance hit the crossbar and reached the path of Porteria who slid the ball below Izham into the goal from a tight angle on the left.
Johor replied instantly to make it 5-1 after Diaz’s set-up Lucero who fired past Kaya goalkeeper Matthew Acton from inside the box.
Another piece of individual skill from Diaz in the 69th minute saw Mahali well-positioned to control the ball near the penalty spot before finishing with aplomb for their sixth goal.
And Lucero completed his hat-trick two minutes later when he beat the offside trap and slotted past Acton inside the box in a one-on-one.
There was still time for another goal, this time from Kaya as Ugarte converted a cross from Porteria inside the box two minutes from time to reduce the deficit but it barely made a dent in Johor’s lead as the Malaysians roared their way into the AFC Cup quarter-finals.
"The first goal we conceded really surprised us because we were not ready when it happened,” said Kaya coach Joel Villarino. “I did not know what happened to our goalkeeper because we were not able to adjust right away to the free kick.
"It was a very good experience against the defending champions. Some of us were new in facing big crowds away, especially when we were up against the quality of the champions. We tried our best, but our best was not good enough in the game of tactics.”