Darul Ta’zim boss Hodak to keep faith in local contingent

Johor Darul Ta’zim coach Bojan Hodak is not bothered by the fact that he could be forced to field a fully-local starting XI in Tuesday’s AFC Cup clash with Balestier Khalsa.

The reigning Malaysia Super League champions, who opened their AFC Cup Group F campaign two weeks ago with a 4-1 win over India’s East Bengal, resume their continental campaign on Tuesday when they take on S.League outfit Balestier Khalsa at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

Although Hodak’s side head into the clash arguably as favourites given the star-studded roster at his disposal, he could be forced to field an all-Malaysian line-up given a number of injury and fitness concerns over their four foreigners.

Nonetheless, with the likes of Safee Sali, Safiq Rahim and Amri Yahyah still available, the Croatian tactician remains confident his side have what it takes to deliver on the field.

“Our two foreign strikers did not travel with us and [defender] Marcos [Antonio] has a bit of an injury worry, so we’ll have to see if he’ll play tomorrow [Tuesday],” Hodak revealed.

“That leaves Hariss [Harun] as our only available foreigner but we’ll also have to take a look at his condition as we’ve played many matches over the past two weeks.

“It’s likely we’ll make changes and maybe some of the young players will get a chance but, no matter what, we’ll need to get the job done.

“So far this season, we’ve played with a mostly local team. Our foreign strikers have played about 40 per cent game time, Marcos has played 50 per cent so only Hariss has been playing from the first minute till the last.

“We have some good quality local players and whoever plays – that’s our best XI.”

Hodak was also in charge of Kelantan when they reached the quarter-finals of the AFC Cup back in 2012, which remains the best achievement by a Malaysian side in the competition.

However, he insists that will not add any extra pressure on how far JDT go in 2015.

“Our first ambition is to win tomorrow [Tuesday] and our second ambition is to qualify for the next round,” added the 43-year-old.

“After that, it sometimes depends on the luck of the draw.

“So far, the best any Malaysian team has done is to reach the quarter-finals so I hope we can achieve the same.

“This is not only our first year in the AFC Cup, but we also played in the AFC Champions League [qualifiers] for the first time.

“There are no high expectations or pressure. We just want to do the best that we can.”

One man who has no shortage of experience on the big stage is veteran striker Amri Yahyah, who enjoyed plenty of success of Singapore soil last year when he helped Malaysia reach the final of the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup, before they were ultimately beaten by Thailand.

The 34-year-old was quick to downplay suggestions that Singapore could be a happy hunting ground for me, but insists he was only focused on one thing come Tuesday evening.

“It’s totally different playing for the national team and at club level,” Amri explained.

“I just recovered from injury and we’ve come here to win.

“I’ll be doing my best to make sure we go back with the three points.”

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