Kochi: Kerala Blasters are determined to put up a good show in the fifth edition of the Indian Super League (ISL), which kicks off on Saturday.
Unlike the previous seasons that saw big names in their line-up, the Kochi-based franchise coached by former England shot-stopper David James have opted for unheralded foreigners and home-grown players who are hungry for success. As many as seven Kerala-born players feature in the 25-member squad.
There are no players of the reputation of Dimitar Berbatov or Wes Brown in this new-look Blasters squad, but the team have the talent and fighting spirit to give their fancied opponents a run for their money.
Blasters have added more firepower to their attack and midfield by signing Serbians Nikola Krcmarevic and Slavisa Stojanovic and Slovenian striker Matej Poplatnik. With several years of top-flight football under their belt, the trio can make big difference for the team.
The 26-year-old Krcmarevic has turned up for different sides in Greece, Serbia, Sweden and Faroe Islands. Stojanovic, an influential striker, was signed from Serbian club Radnicki while Poplatnik, who was part of Slovenian club Triglav, is a proven goal-scorer.
French centre-back Cyril Kali, who has been named the vice-captain, is another notable signing by Blasters. The 34-year-old has spent several years playing top division football in Greece, so his experience will come in handy in the backline.
Another Serbian Nemanja Lakic-Pesic, one of the foreigners retained from the last season, is a versatile player who can be used as the central defender or as a left-back.
A lot will be expected from young Ugandan midfielder Kizito Keziron, who impressed in the few outings last season before returning home following an injury. The enterprising midfield also comprises Ghanian attacking midfielder Courage Pekuson, who shone for them as a utility player in the previous season. The nimble-footed player, in the company of Keziron, will be pulling the strings from the middle.
Their defence, marshalled by captain Sandesh Jhingan and Anas Edathodika, is a perfect mix of experienced players and fresh talent. The team pin high hopes on last season’s standout performer Lalruatthara and India U-17 star Mohammad Rakip to deliver the goods.
Their midfield, which was in chaos last season, will be bolstered by the presence of exciting prospects such as K Prasanth, Deependra Singh Negi and young Manipuri player Loken Meitei.
The new Indian signings in Blasters' midfield are international Halicharan Narzary, former Shillong Lajong and Bengaluru FC player Len Doungel, and Sooraj Rawat.
Three Kerala-born players - former Mumbai City midfielder Zakeer Mundampara, Sahal Abdul Samad and Rishi Dutt – will also be waiting for their chance in the first XI.