Johor Darul Ta'zim earned plaudits from their Crown Prince owner Tunku Sultan Ismail, who says JDT are moving in the right direction, despite the 3-0 loss to a classy Gamba Osaka to in Asian Champions League (ACL) playoff on Tuesday.
"Obviously we will keep fighting for the ACL qualifiers, but to play against a team like Gamba Osaka and to see that the players are playing the football that we demand from JDT, it's an honour to me," said the royalty, also known as TMJ, via the club's Southern Tigers Facebook page.
In freezing temperatures at the Suita City Football Stadium in Osaka, JDT did well to match their illustrious Japanese counterparts.
That was until they were dismantled in two silky Gamba moves, finished by Ademilson and Shun Nagasawa in the space of three minutes midway through the first half.
Genta Miura planted home a thumping header in the 70th minute to kill off the game, and put the 2008 champions in Group H of the tournament proper.
But TMJ was encouraged by his team's attitude and spirit. They kept possession well and orchestrated clever link-up plays of their own, but were let down by poor finishing.
"They are playing the football we want, and the philosophy we want but one crucial factor is missing. Unfortunately, we did not have a striker due to the suspension of Jeronimo Barrales," he said.
Earlier this week, TMJ was given the blessing by his father Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar to run for the Football Association of Malaysia presidency in the March elections. He indicated that he will add more firepower in the next transfer window.
The Southern Tigers now return to Asia's second tier AFC Cup for the third consecutive season, where they will host Cambodian side Boeung Ket Angkor in their Group F opener on Feb. 21.
Myanmar outfit Magwe and Philippines'' Global FC, who lost 6-0 to Brisbane Roar in the second-round qualifiers, complete the group.
The 2015 champions are once again favourites to lift the trophy, having also made the semifinals in 2016.
But before any regional commitment begins, JDT return to domestic action to face Selangor at Larkin Stadium in the Malaysia Super League on Saturday.