AFC CUP - RD16: JOHOR DARUL TA’ZIM V KAYA FC PREVIEW
Johor Baru: Johor Darul Ta’zim coach Mario Gomez is sweating on the fitness of captain Safiq Rahim ahead of Wednesday’s last 16 clash with visitors Kaya FC of the Philippines in the AFC Cup, with a place in the quarter-finals at stake at Stadium Tan Sri Dato' Haji Yunos.
Malaysia midfielder Rahim (pictured) was named MVP of last year’s tournament as Johor became the first team from East Asia to win the continental competition with a 1-0 win over Tajikistan’s FC Istiklol.
And Rahim has also been on fine form in the year’s edition with seven goals in the group stage putting him in third place in the top scorers list and helping Johor top Group H with a 100% record.
“We must see the fitness of Safiq Rahim today because we don't know whether he will be involved as a starter, substitute or not at all,” said Gomez, who guided Johor to the 2015 AFC Cup title after moving to Johor Baru from Hong Kong’s South China a year ago.
“It is only one game and we play at home. Our ambition is to retain the AFC Cup, so we have to win the game tomorrow before the long mid-season break.
“Kaya have good players because they qualified into the next round. Their striker [OJ Porteria] and defender [Aly Borromeo] are notable key players. They also have young and fast players, so it is not going to be easy for us."
AFC Cup debutants Kaya, meanwhile, will have to do without Louis Clark after the forward received his second yellow of the group stage in the Matchday Six goalless draw away to New Radiant of the Maldives earlier this month.
The Filipino side did, though, enjoy a comfortable 10-2 defeat of Forza FC last Wednesday in their most recent outing in the United Football League.
“We are really excited because being a first-timer in the AFC Cup, we have gone this far,” said Kaya coach Joel Villarino.
“Johor are one of the strongest teams in the tournament. We are glad to have the honour of playing against the defending champions in front of a strong crowd.
"We have to showcase our abilities. We have done our homework on Johor. We have to concentrate throughout and show our teamwork.”