The Mariners smashed Maziya S&RC to seal an AFC Cup knockouts berth.

ATK Mohun Bagan thrashed Maziya S&RC 5-2 to advance into the AFC Cup 2022 knockouts. The Mariners finished atop Group D with six points, making them the first team to top an AFC Cup group after losing the opening encounter. Juan Ferrando’s side also scored the most number of goals (11) in the group stages. Joni Kauko scored a first-half brace for ATK Mohun Bagan, while Roy Krishna, Subhasish Bose and Carl McHugh added to the scoreline. Pedro Placeres (Tana) scored both of Maziya’s goals, but that wasn’t enough.

Head coach Juan Ferrando attended the press conference after the game. Here’s what he said.

Thoughts on the game

Well, Juan Ferrando was very critical of Vincenzo Alberto Annese, who had mentioned after the first match that “Real Kashmir gave a tougher fight than ATK Mohun Bagan.”

Juan Ferrando seemed serious and commented, “I’m happy for the players, fans and the club. In the last six days, we read a lot of bad words about us. I read some news articles that disappointed me. But this is a big club because we have respect for our opponents. That is the most important thing. In the end, the best thing is to play on the pitch and not in press conferences.”

Best in the group?

ATK Mohun Bagan started their AFC Cup 2022 campaign with a 4-2 loss against Gokulam Kerala. However, they recovered well from their mistakes and defeated Bashundhara Kings 4-0 in the next encounter. Yesterday, the Mariners thrashed Maziya 5-2. Certainly, Juan Ferrando’s side made a comeback which is expected from a club of their stature.

When asked if after all these results, ATK Mohun Bagan is best side in the group, the tactician claimed, “Who is in the first position at the end of the group? Who scores goals like 5-2, 4-0? If you check the statistics, you can see we’re the best in the group. But as a big club we have respect for all our opponents.”

“Sometimes, some people have no respect for the other clubs and that is not good because football is amazing. In the world, people enjoy football. It’s not necessary to come here and be a hooligan and tell unnecessary, offensive words,” he again criticized the Gokulam Kerala head coach.

Performance against Maziya S&RC

Juan Ferrando also shed light on his side’s performance against Maziya, “The performance was the culmination of us working in the same way for the last five months. I’m happy because we tried to play and tried to find the spaces all the time. After 2-1 today or in the last game against Bashundhara Kings, there were difficult moments for the team but in the end, they had the personality to win.

“I’m very happy when they work together, they try to protect the ball and find the spaces. Not only am I happy with the players in the starting line-up, but the substitutes as well.”

Targets ahead

ATK Mohun Bagan will now be playing in the next round of the AFC Cup, where they will be welcomed by sides which are way hard to defeat. Also, the team will see some changes prior to the upcoming season. Ferrando opined on his targets for the upcoming days, “I have a lot of targets in mind.

“But now it’s time to rest. We have time to think about the last few games. We will play in the playoffs now. This is an amazing international competition, and we have learnt a lot from it. Of course, it’s necessary to take time now and prepare for the next rounds, which will be more difficult. I think it’s good because we’ll improve like a team.”

Challenge to play clubs from different zones

Last year ATK Mohun Bagan ended their AFC Cup campaign with a heavy 6-0 defeat against FC Nasaf. Nasaf belonged to a different zone. Teams in the South Zone are easier to compete with than the Western or other zones.

When asked about the challenge to play against clubs from other zones, the maestro claimed, “It’s good for me. I like it so much when it’s a challenging situation. It’s a challenge for the club, the team and for everyone. The club needs to improve at this stage. We need to improve like a team; the players and the staff everyone. The opponents will undoubtedly be a good opponent. This is the amazing thing about this competition. You must do the best every day because in front of you, you have an opponent that is much better than us.”

Retaining the players

The side will certainly undergo some reshuffling during the transfer window. As of now, David Williams will move to Mumbai City and Ashique Kuruniyan will join the Mariners. Even Prabir Das is expected to join Bengaluru FC during the transfer window.

When asked if he’ll be able to retain his squad for the next AFC Cup game, Ferrando quipped, “This is the life of football. Some players will see themselves out as some coaches do. Tomorrow we’ll prepare for the future but I hope a lot of the players will continue with us. I hope we can continue to work in the same way.

“In my point of view, we are in the 15% maximum to improve in front of us. More or less, the players know my point of view and I have to help them to improve a lot of things in attack and defence. I think my team’s performances will get much better day by day.”

Joni Kauko also attended the press conference along with the head coach. Here’s his share of words.

Playing in front of fans

Joni Kauko spoke on how he felt playing in front of the fans.

“It felt very nice. We played in front of a lot of people today. It felt like we dominated the day. Overall, the group stage was great. We only lost that one game against Gokulam Kerala. I’m really happy and very proud of the boys.”

Enjoying the new role?

Joni Kauko was used as a defensive midfielder against Gokulam Kerala. However, he was back to his natural position in the following fixtures. When enquired upon enjoying the new role of a defensive midfielder, Kauko asserted, “Well I don’t think I’ve grown into the role as it’s not a new thing for me. I’ve been playing there for the last 4 years now. In the first 10-12 games, when I was playing in the defensive role, I felt like that was a big thing for me. I didn’t feel good there.

“I can work for the team, but I feel if I can be a little bit in a more central attacking region of the pitch, I can be the guy who plays those final balls. I’m really happy because we’ve been having a good time and as the coach said, we’re really happy.”

His journey at the club

Joni Kauko’s first appearance in Green & Maroon colours came against FC Nasaf which saw the Mariners lose by 6-0. Now, almost after a year when enquired on his journey at the club, the Finnish asserted, “As I said in the last press conference, I was quite shocked that my first game for the club was a 6-0 loss. That was pretty hard. I’ve had a harsh start at the club.

“This year in the AFC Cup we had a couple of good games, but I felt like I wasn’t really there in a defensive role. As I played more further (attacking role), I think I’ve improved myself and also the team. I’m really enjoying my time here. I wanted to come here and experience something as well as win completely new things.”

Thoughts on Maldives’ players

The press conference ended with Kauko commenting on the Maldives’ players, “I think they have some good players for sure. You wouldn’t expect that from such a small place you have a club with such technical players and tactically sound players. They gave their best, but the better team won today. I wish all the best for them too.”

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