Luciano Figueroa header gives JDT win in Thai warm-up for ACL
Malaysian champions Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) got their preseason tour of Thailand off to a winning start while former Home United teammates Hassan Sunny and Hariss Harun were reunited on opposing sides.
JDT earned a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Thai League 2 (T2) side Army United, with the only goal coming from Luciano Figueroa's header at the beginning of the second half.
But the visitors were given a good workout in a competitive fixture as they prepare to face Muang Thong United in the AFC Champions League qualifier on Jan. 23.
The hosts had the better of the first half, with Hazwan Bakri's low drive the only time JDT tested Hassan in the Army goal.
Junior Eldstal and Fazly Mazlan were both booked as JDT struggled to impose themselves on the game.
However, it was a different story in the second half after some changes were made, and it was not long before they opened the scoring through Figueroa's fine header.
While JDT took their time to get going, they looked comfortable for most of the second half, despite failing to trouble Hassan after the goal.
JDT midfielder Hariss' Bangkok reunion with Hassan came just months after the two Singapore internationals had played together at Home United in the S.League last season.
"It's good to see him as we were teammates at club and international level last year," Hariss told ESPN FC. "I am happy for him as he's playing in Thailand at a higher level.
"He's a top goalkeeper so I'm sure he'll bring a lot to this team and put in a lot of really good performances like he did before he left."
Hariss was happy with the overall performance of his team, and he gave a solid performance in the middle of the park in the second half as he seeks to re-establish himself, following last season's loan in Singapore.
"I think it was a good game to try and test ourselves," Hariss said. "I think we played particularly well in the second half. I think it was a good performance, but we always have to look to improve."
Meanwhile, Hassan was delighted to be back playing for the club that he served with distinction in 2015 and 2016.
"It feels too good to be back," Hassan told ESPN FC. "My last game was on 18th November in Singapore, so it's been a while since I last played.
"I think we have a lot of fighters now in the team. It's a totally different team to what we had two or three years ago.
"I think we are adapting well to the new system our coach has brought to us, so it will be very interesting to see how we cope [in T2]."
Hassan felt the performance against an opponent like JDT was very encouraging as they prepare for a battle to try and work their way back into contention for a place in the top tier of Thai football.
"Looking at the JDT squad, they have more than 10 national team players," Hassan said. "I think we coped very well.
"We played against a strong, solid team. They have good balance in all departments. Now we have a good run with a few more friendly matches and we'll see how it goes."
JDT next play Chonburi on Jan. 13 and round off their Thailand tour against Port FC two days later.
Bangkok-based Paul Murphy has lived in Asia for a decade, writing for ESPN FC since 2014. He is a former Daily Express sub-editor. @PaulMurphyBKK