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Johor Baru: Johor Darul Ta’zim of Malaysia claimed a 3-2 victory over Philippines’ Ceres Negro on Wednesday in a 2017 AFC Cup Zonal semi-final clash which brought a conflict of styles on the night.

While 2015 champions Johor looked to retain the ball and build from the back, they were confronted by a fast, direct opponent who caused problems throughout despite just 35 percent of the ball—with the shot count a far more even 16-14 overall.

Ceres won 70.6 percent of their 17 tackles and made 17 clearances to hold firm in the face of their opponents’ pressure for long periods, allowing them to strike blows of their own at the other end of the pitch.

The differences in approach made for a fascinating and highly entertaining encounter.

Direct style shocks Johor

The first-half of the encounter was a perfect example of how sometimes possession and territory mean little in football, with Johor seemingly heading into the break 2-1 down prior to an equaliser on the stroke of half-time.

Despite a first-half possessional advantage of 67.9 percent to their opponents 32.1 percent, with just 11.5 percent of the game in their own final third, Johor found themselves behind on the scoresheet.

What Ceres did so well was to isolate Johor’s defence on the counter-attack, committing three or four players to fast-flowing attacking moves based upon moving the ball forward quickly. 23 percent of passes they attempted were classified as ‘long’.

The most common passing combination the Filipino side managed on the night was from goalkeeper to striker Fernando (eight occasions) —an indication of the directness of the approach.

Johor’s right-side bias brings attacking joy

Johor’s attacking play was heavily biased to the right flank, with 43.5 percent of their attacking third play coming down the side.

All five open play crosses the side attempted were sent in from the right, albeit all cleared by Ceres’ defence, while just two of eight key passes came from left of the pitch’s centre line.

With midfielder Safiq Rahim once again the most influential player on the pitch, completing 90.8 percent of his 87 passes, it is natural that Johor’s game built largely on the side of midfield in which he operated.

The Malaysian side were able to frequently create overlaps on the right, with defender Subramaniam Kunalan heavily involved prior to his 69th minute withdrawal following an early yellow card.

Individual quality brings rewards

While Johor were unable to consistently create strong opportunities against a resolute Ceres defence, they found goals at key times in the game thanks to the individual quality on show in their side.

Gonzalo Cabrera’s slaloming run and fine finish for the game’s opening goal set the tone after 18 minutes, before Safiq Rahim had a hand in the remaining two goals—scoring with a header before turning provider for teammate Hazwan Bakri.

With two of the three strikes coming from outside the area, there was little more Ceres could have done to prevent the concessions—while they too responded with two excellent individual goals of their own.

Of just 11 shots on target overall, five found the net showing the high standard of finishing on show from both sides on the night.

Photo: Lagardère Sports

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