New recruit Hazwan Bakri vital part of JDT's AFC Champions League chase

PETALING JAYA -- 2015 AFC Cup champions Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) were handed an easy draw for the 2017 edition, but the Southern Tigers have set their eyes on the more illustrious AFC Champions League.

Their new recruit Ahmad Hazwan Bakri, freshly signed from Selangor has also been dubbed an important signing, but his position in the team is yet to be identified.

JDT were drawn together with Magwe FC (Myanmar), Global FC/Loyola Meralco Sparks FC (Philippines) and the playoff winners from Laos or Cambodia in Group F.

But after finishing top in 2015, and making the semifinals in 2016, the kingpins of Malaysian football are vying to qualify for the glamorous Champions League group stages instead.

The reigning Malaysia Super League Champions (MSL) will play away to Thailand's Bangkok United in the preliminary Round two on Jan 31.

Should they win, JDT could face Japanese outfit Sanfrecce Hiroshima, who finished fourth in the J-League.

"The target is to try and make the AFC Champions League, and with good foreigners we can do well," JDT team manager Ismail Ibrahim said after the draw was announced in Petaling Jaya on Tuesday.

"But if we do end up in the AFC Cup, the target is to make the final. The league is equally important to us, so we need to see how FAM arranges the fixtures".

"We want to compete equally on both fronts."

Ismail also hailed the signing of national forward Hazwan, who became the club's latest local marquee signing after moving from troubled Selangor.

"Hazwan is a vital addition for us, but I'm not sure where he will play. That depends on the coach."

Hazwan was signed along with promising youngster Safawi Rasid from T-Team.

JDT have already snapped up Nazmi Faiz (Selangor), Syahrul Azwari (Sarawak) and Haziq Nadzli (PDRM).

A source also told ESPN FC that an Argentine striker is being lined up to replace 2016 MSL top scorer Jorge Pereyra Diaz.

"There won't be any more signings after that. [Juan Martin] Lucero will remain with the team, along with Hariss [Harun] and Marcos [Antonio]."

In 2015, JDT lost 3-0 to Bangkok Glass in the second round playoff before crashing out to Muang Thong United on penalties in 2016.

2016 MSL runners-up Felda United, meanwhile, reignited a Causeway battle after they were pitted in the same group as Tampines Rovers/Geylang International of Singapore. Vietnam champions Hanoi T&T/SHB Da Nang (Vietnam) and Ceres Negros of the Philippines make up Group G.

The Fighters are still in negotiations with the AFC to use their home in Jengka.

Felda have been requested to play their matches in the Klang Valley, as they do not have an airport or decent accommodation close to their Tun Abdul Razak Ground.

The rejigged AFC Cup format also sees 36 teams participating, increased from 32 from 2016.

The tournament, which begins on Jan. 30, will also see an additional 10 matches for a total of 127 games.