Johor Darul Ta'zim's Safawi Racid has been running defenders down the wing for some time now. Yet, JDT coach Benjamin Mora has had to make some tough calls in recent months with Arif Aiman's rise. His selection headache was only made worse by the 3-1 win of the Southern Tigers against UiTM FC on Sunday. The match was their return to Malaysia Super League action. Teenager Arif pounded the opposition before Safawi, a more experienced player, gave his side the goal. Arif, who was 18 years old and 10 months old, became the Super League's youngest ever scorer when he scored against the same team in March. He had replaced Safawi injured. Malaysian boss Tan Cheng Hoe became a fan quickly and gave Arif a call-up to the national team for the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. The 19-year old put on some decent performances despite Harimau Malaya's exit. Wrapping up a wild first half of 2021 for Arif was JDT's AFC Champions League campaign in Bangkok, where he was one of few silver linings for the club as they made a group stage exit collecting just four points from six fixtures. Safawi is yet to return to his best since returning from a brief loan at Portugal's Portimonense. The 24-year-old, who was injured in April, has only played two of six Super League matches. Mora preferred Arif to the right flank. This was also the case at Sultan Ibrahim Stadium on Sunday. Arif proved to be a challenge for UiTM defenders Aliff Njmi, Syahmi Shukri. The small winger is quick and agile and has the ability to tackle defenders. He can also throw some great shots into the box. It was from one such delivery that led to Gonzalo Cabrera equalising for Johor five minutes into the second half, after Joel Vinicius had given the visitors a surprise lead. Safawi was subbed in after the hour-mark and regained the spotlight with JDT's second before Bergson da Silva sealed the victory in the 88th minute. Which of the attacking duos will Mora choose as the season progresses, and why? Is Arif going to continue to outshine his more experienced counterpart? Is it going to be Safawi with his set-piece prowess and deadly left foot, who can get Arif back in the starting XI? Mora will probably be thinking about a bigger question: Can they both feature on the same side? Mora has tried to accommodate both as recently as earlier this month in a 2-0 ACL defeat to Pohang Steelers, with Arif shifted to the left wing. The match was dominated by JDT, but the jury is still out. That is one question JDT will be asking in the weeks ahead, but JDT also needed to answer another question on Sunday: Will they rebound from a disappointing ACL run? And return their focus to domestic affairs?
It looks like Terengganu will face a double challenge from Kedah Darul Aman and Terengganu to reclaim the domestic crown. Johor's nearest challengers are the Turtles of Terengganu, trailing by just three points. Terengganu is waiting for their title rivals to slip, thanks to strong performances by Makan Konate, their midfielder, and Hakimi Abdullah (young winger), Kedah remains in the hunt, having finished seven points behind JDT as runners-up last season. Kpah Sherman and Kipre Tchetche still shoulder the scoring responsibilities for the Red Eagles netting 15 of their 21 goals in the league this campaign. JDT remains in control for the moment. If Arif and Safawi keep up their good work, a 8th consecutive league title shouldn't be too far off.