From the first minute the game plan of JDT was clear, with the visitors determined to keep things tight on the unfamiliar artificial surface, getting men behind the ball to limit the space given to Istiklol, with much of their attacking play limited to long balls up to the isolated duo of Safee Sali and Luciano Figueroa.
Roared on by a partizan home crowd Istiklol dominated early, with Manuchekhr Dzhalilov having three chances as a result of some pacey build-up play. His first effort came after he found space in behind full-back Kunanlan in the JDT box, but he tamely dragged his shot wide of goal. Soon after a long throw caught Johor napping, with the ball falling to the unmarked Manuchekhr ten yards out who put the ball under an onrushing Farizal, but Johor were indebted to the covering Aidil Zafuan who cleared off the line in desperation. His third chance of the evening was superbly palmed away by JDT keeper Farizal after the forward had skillfully beaten Aidil.
Johor did begin to work their way into the game after absorbing Istiklol’s early pressure, with the tireless pair of Sali and Figueroa doing well to press from the front. Figuero in particularly continued to drop deep and limit the space of deep lying playmaker Nuriddin Davronov, while Hariss Harun rarely left the side of Spaniard Manolo Bleda, effectively shackling him. The first Johor chance of the evening came from captain Safiq Rahim, who hit a trademark effort from distance that Nikola Stošić did well to hold.
The Southern Tigers stunned the home side on 22 minutes as they took the lead against the run of play following a half cleared corner. It was fluid link-up play on the left between Fazly Mazlan and Leandro Velazquez that earned the corner, and after Safiq Rahim’s corner was headed out to the edge of the area, it was Leandro who reacted quickest. He demonstrated great hunger to get to the ball first, before maintaining his composure to keep the ball low and put his low left footed effort in the back of the net. The fact that the opener came not long after Istiklol had a goal from a corner disallowed following a dubious foul on Marcos Antonio made it all the more frustrating for the team from Tajikistan.
The home team did remind Johor of their attacking threat ten minutes before the interval, with Manolo and Mehdi Chahjouyi combining well down the right allowing the latter to whip in a dangerous cross. However as would be the pattern for the evening, Johor’s well marshalled backline were able to get a foot on the ball to avert the danger.
Johor began the second half packing men into their own half, withholding immense Istiklol pressure, as they would have to do for the remainder of the final. Their defence was breached on 50 minutes as Manuchekhr finally got the ball in the back of the net, latching onto a through ball and finishing with composure, but Istiklol were foiled by an extremely close offside call by the assistant referee.
As the half progressed, Istiklol were all over a tiring Johor side, gradually increasing the pressure but guilty of overplaying in the final third. There was the sense that the home side, with manager Mubin Ergashev slow to make changes, were running out of ideas. Davronov did come close with a cross cum shot that almost caught out Farizal before going just over. Minutes later the midfielder was lucky to avoid sanction as he lashed out at Harun, a sign of the growing frustration of his team.
On 70 minutes Manolo had the best chance of the night as the ball reached him in the JDT goalmouth, but the rock solid Farizal saved at point blank range. From the resulting corner there was a goalmouth scramble and it looked as if Farizal was unable to stop the ball going over the line, but again Johor were saved by the whistle of the referee who called for a foul on the JDT keeper.
As the time ticked down Istiklol were camped inside the JDT half, and with ten minutes left Jakhongir Jalilov did have a sight of goal after outmuscling Kunanlan, but he rushed his shot and poked wide. In the final minute of the six minutes of additional time Istiklol again had the ball in the back of the net, sending the stadium into raptures, but yet again they were foiled by the assistant referee who flagged goalscorer Manuchekhr correctly offside. A minute later and the game was over, with Johor having made history after a brave rearguard effort and thoroughly professional performance.