The rise of Southern Tigers
Updated: May 18
WHILE many M-League teams still struggle to pay wages, Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) have become one of Asia's elites in club football.
JDT created history on Saturday by reaching the last 16 of the Asian Champions League (ACL) for the first time.
And the Southern Tigers are not done yet.
Benjamin Mora's side want to create more history in the competition.
JDT advanced to the knockout stage with a last-gasp 2-1 victory over former winners Ulsan Hyundai to top Group I.
JDT's progress was assured in a dramatic finish in front of 17,950 fans at Sultan Ibrahim Stadium when Park Yong Woo's 94th-minute own goal gave them the win after Ulsan's Jun Amano had cancelled out Leandro Velazquez's spectacular fifth-minute free kick.
JDT can stand proud as many had wrote them off as they were in a tough group, which included Japan's Kawasaki Frontale and China's Guangzhou FC.
However, everyone in Malaysia should enjoy this success together with JDT fans, as it came after years of hard work following the club's rebranding exercise about decade ago, initiated by owner Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim.
Mora said: "We are a small club, a modest team but with great belief.
"Our players have unbelievable hearts and minds who never gave up until the last minute, and it is precisely for those reasons that we were rewarded so late in the match."
Looking ahead, the Mexican has vowed that Saturday's win is just a sign of more history from the 2015 AFC Cup champions.
"In the end, today's victory is the harvest of the seeds that were planted many years ago.
"I must thank the players, my family, the club for always believing in me, and of course, my wonderful backroom staff."
Mora paid tribute to the passionate fans for their support and giving them a numerical advantage in spirit on the pitch throughout their momentous run.
"Obviously, we are very happy, and to be honest, it is very hard for me to describe how I feel now that we finally created history.
"In the end, we must thank our fans for never failing to support us all across the six matches. They made a huge difference in this campaign.
"They are the ones who are the most important focus of football. Managers like me, and the players, we come and go, but the fans will always be there, so this win is dedicated to them."