Johor Darul Ta'zim coach Mario Gomez said the Southern Tigers lacked the fight needed for a big occasion after their semi-final exit from the 2016 AFC Cup on Wednesday.
The Malaysian giants were outclassed by I-League champions Bengaluru FC in the semi-final second leg at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru. Johor who were held to a 1-1 draw in their home leg, lost 3-1 against the Blues to end their title defense on a bitter note.
Despite taking the advantage with an early goal from skipper Safiq Rahim, Johor ended the match as the second best team on the turf. Bengaluru FC skipper Sunil Chhetri struck on either side of the break to take his team closer to their maiden AFC Cup final. The hosts sealed the game in the 75th minute after Spanish defender Juanan added the third goal for them.
After conceding the first goal, Johor lost composure and were taken aback by Bengaluru's constant pressing. Chhetri's second in the second half completely swung the momentum in his side's favour. The hosts kept troubling the Malaysian side from set pieces as the crossbar came to their rescue in the first-half.
Gomez, who had enjoyed an unbeaten AFC Cup run this year with Johor until Wednesday, lamented his side's inability to defend set-pieces. He continued stressing that the absence of his key strikers, which includes Johor's top-scorers Juan Lucero and Pereyra Diaz, had a big impact in his side's performances.
"We were winning 1-0, but we lost concentration in defending the free kick and corner, so we lost the game," Gomez was quoted as saying by the AFC CUP's official website.
"When you are in the semi-finals, you need to fight and show character and concentration.
"Losing three key strikers impact not just us, but any team in that situation. When we were winning, they didn't lose patience. They showed character to win, so it's important we learn from the semi-final defeat."
Meanwhile, Albert Roca, who has carried on the good work done by former Blues manager Ashley Westwood, heaped praise on his skipper Chhetri saying the India international has led the I-League side led from the front.
The 53-year-old, who had worked as an assistant coach at Camp Nou, said his side needs to keep working hard if they are to become the first Indian side to win the AFC Cup.
Notably, the Blues will take on Iraq's Air Force Club in the final of the tournament in Doha on 5 November.
"As the captain, Sunil Chhetri set the right example for everyone here. From the first day, he was really dedicated and focused. He is a big part of what we achieved tonight," Roca said.
"Sunil's commitment was so big that he could play anywhere on the pitch. When I told him he was going to score from the middle coming in from the inside, he went on to produce that incredible goal [in the second half].
"To win the title would be incredible for all of us. But we still have to work hard, with the same mentality [that has worked well for us so far]. If we do that, we fancy our chances."