In A Game Where Nothing Less Than A Win Will Keep Bengaluru’s AFC Dreams Alive, Johnson Says The Blues Are Battle-Ready
He’s a ‘war veteran’ of sorts who has had his fair share of scars for medals and John Johnson feels Wednesday’s AFC Cup clash against Maziya S&RC will be every bit the battle it’s being made out to be. The Blues need nothing less than a win if they are to progress to the knock-out rounds of a tournament they took by storm last season. Meanwhile, the side from Maldives, a draw will be enough to triumph the two-horse race on the last day of group stage games.
“The game on Wednesday is crucial; for the team, for the fans, for the city and for the country. This team has always managed to give the fans joy at the end of the season and that will be a big motivation when we step out on the pitch. We may have done the country proud, but going down at the final hurdle last season wasn’t the nicest of feelings. Tomorrow is our chance to take a big step in our attempt of chasing what we missed out on last November and the boys know this well,” says the No.6.
A mainstay in the Blues’ scheme of things since the club’s inception, Johnson believes that the team has gelled well to become a complete unit in recent years. “Since the first season, we’ve had players who have increased competition for places in the squad. It’s tougher to be a defender in training now than it ever was because the bar’s been raised over and over again, which is always a good thing at a football club.”
Wednesday’s fixture will also have a touch of history to it as Maziya were the Blues’ first ever opponents in the competition. And while Shankar Sampingiraj scored a late winner in that game, Johnson had a 90th minute winner of his own when Bengaluru traveled to Maziya in April this season. “That goal was a brilliant feeling. It’s always nice to score a winning goal for the team, and more so when it’s in the last minute. We’d toiled throughout in harsh conditions and we were happy to come back from Maldives with those points. It was an important goal and I’m thrilled to have scored it,” Johnson says.
Nothing short of a win will do, but asked if a hint of pressure exists in the Blues’ camp, Johnson says his side thrives on matches that deserve performances.
“Pressure isn’t something that’s ever affected this side. In the Federation Cup final, we were without Cameron, who’s been influential in midfield. We missed Sunil (Chhetri), who’s the most experienced player and also Udanta, to an injury an hour into the game. But we held fort and came back with the cup. This team thrives on big occasions like these and that’s exactly what Wednesday sets us up for,” the 28-year-old says.
Johnson signs off, but not before giving us more than a few kind words for the Blues’ faithful, who’ve stood by the Blues through what has been a tough season. “I thank the fans for the brilliant year they’ve given us. They have been fantastic, even when our League campaign wasn’t going so well and I look forward to seeing them in the stands on Wednesday. I’m sure they’ll do what they do best and hopefully we’ll bring them back some matches sooner rather than later.”