Johor Darul Ta'zim left to rue absence of VAR in controversial loss to Nagoya

Johor Darul Ta'zim fell Tuesday night in a controversial 1-0 defeat to Nagoya Grampus during their Group G opener of the 2021 AFC Champions League -- Asia's premier club competition.

JDT were left to rue the absence of another three-letter acronym that has become synonymous with world football the past few years: VAR. With the tournament not using the Video Assistant Referee during the group stage, Harimau Selatan were left without a potentially-valuable point.

There were two pivotal moments in the match.

For the first, credit must go to the assistant referee for correctly allowing what initially looked like a offside goal to stand.

As Ryogo Yamasaki laid the ball back for Hiroyuki Abe to smash home for Nagoya's opener in the 60th minute, Yamasaki looked to have been offside. Replays, however, proved he had been played onside by opposition centre-back Shane Lowry.

Later in stoppage time a cross was hung up from the right in the 92nd minute. Bergson da Silva was engaged in a tussle with Yasuki Kimoto but looked to have won a battle of strength and proceeded to plant a bullet header into the back of the net for what looked to be the equaliser. The strike was immediately chalked off by the referee for an apparent foul on the Nagoya defender.

Replays suggested Bergson made minimal contact -- and likely not enough to send his opponent hurtling to the ground.

JDT fared well against a traditionally defence-minded Nagoya outfit that surprisingly showed little adventure despite being the stronger team on paper.

With their next match in just two days, they will now have to get over the loss quickly and focus on their positives.

JDT more than matched up against a favored Nagoya squad -- even if they could have taken the game to them sooner after realising the Japanese side were content to sit back.

Leandro Velazquez was a livewire in midfield, Bergson showed he could be a handful for any defence in the ACL, while rising star Arif Aiman showed glimpses of quality before being hauled off with 15 minutes remaining.

But perhaps the most silver of linings is that the race to qualify for the knockout round in Group G looks wide open.

In Tuesday's earlier match, Pohang Steelers claimed a routine 2-0 win over debutants Ratchaburi Mitr Phol with the former not looking particularly impressive, while the latter look like they could take some time finding their feet at this level.

If JDT get their campaign up and running with a win over Ratchaburi on Friday, they should most certainly be in the mix.