KUALA LUMPUR – Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) started their Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League campaign on the wrong footing when they lost 0-1 to Nagoya Grampus in their opening Group G match at the Rajamangala National Stadium in Bangkok.
Midfielder Hiroyuki Abe emerged the hero of Nagoya Grampus when he scored the winning goal in the 60th minute.
JDT could have secured a draw but a header by imported striker Bergson Da Silva which found the net at the end of the match was ruled invalid because the Brazilian-born player was deemed to have fouled an opponent earlier.
The decision of referee Mohammed Abdulla Hassan to award a free kick to the opposing team during second-half injury time clearly disappointed Bergson and his teammates, who tried hard to look for the equaliser.
The first 45 minutes of the match saw both teams adopting a cautious approach, with occasional attacks on the goalmouth which did not bear fruit.
Young national player Arif Aiman Mohd Hanapi, who is making his debut in the AFC Champions League, had a good chance to put JDT into the lead in the 42nd minute when he beat the Nagoya Grampus defence but shot straight into the path of goalkeeper Mitchell Langerak.
Nagoya Grampus stepped up their attacks after the interval and were eventually rewarded when striker Ryoga Yamasaki beat an offside trap to pass the ball to Hiroyuki, who coolly slotted it into goal.
Stung by the setback, JDT started to tighten their game, with coach Benjamin Mora bringing in three substitutes – Safiq Rahim, Muhammad Ramadhan Saifullah and Matthew Davies – but they still failed to find the equaliser until the final whistle.
In another match, South Korea’s Pohang Steelers beat Ratchaburi FC of Thailand 2-0 to lead Group G with three points, the same as Nagoya Grampus who are in second spot.
JDT are third while Ratchaburi FC are last in the group. The two teams will meet on Friday.
Last season JDT had to skip the group competition played in Doha, Qatar in November after the government closed the country’s borders because of the COVID-19 pandemic.