Fatorda: The Indian Super League (ISL) will have new winners as Kerala Blasters take on a resurgent Hyderabad FC in the final here on Sunday.
While it would be Hyderabad's maiden final appearance, Blasters will be competing in the final for the third time.
In 2014 and 2016, Blasters had made it to the final, but on both occasions they lost to erstwhile ATK.
Hyderabad qualified after a 3-2 win on aggregate over ATK Mohun Bagan despite losing the second leg of the semifinal 0-1. Hyderabad had won the first leg 3-1 through goals from Bartholomew Ogbeche, Yasir Mohammad, and Javier Siverio.
On the other hand, Blasters entered the ISL final for the first time since 2016 after playing out a 1-1 draw with Jamshedpur FC and pipped the League Shield winners 2-1 on aggregate over double leg semi-finals. In the first leg, Sahal Abdul Samad scored the only goal in a 1-0 win for Kerala.
For Hyderabad, a lot would depend on how their star striker Bartholomew Ogbeche fares against the Blasters' defence.
The 37-year-old Nigerian forward, who is the season's leading goal-scorer with 18 goals to his name from 19 matches, is also the highest goal-scorer in ISL history with 53 strikes.
However, Ogbeche would need support from other strikers Javier Siverio, who has netted seven times this season and Joel Chianese (four goals).
Also the role of midfielder Joao Victor, the captain, who has five goals to his name would also be crucial.
Victor could serve as a key link between strikers and defence and with his prowess can turn the game on its head.
Hyderabad also possess an array of good midfielders in Aniket Jadhav, the experienced Halicharan Narzary and Souvik Chakrabarti.
Hyderabad custodian Laxmikant Kattimani would be aiming to keep a clean sheet.
Hyderabad also have 46 goals this season, the highest for any team, 10 more than their opponents.
Hyderabad head coach Manolo Marquez said that the season was hard for his team and they were happy to be in the final.
"We are very happy to be here. It was a hard season. It was challenging mentally to be in a bio-bubble for five months. Our strength is the group we have, players and staff. We all work towards the same direction," Marquez said on the eve of the mega clash.
"It's only one game and anything can happen tomorrow. We know we have a hard opponent but I am sure they think the same about us as well," added Marquez.
For Blasters their top goalscorer this season has been star striker Jorge Pereyra Diaz (eight goals). And for them, the 31-year-old Argentine will have to be at his best and need to fire on all cylinders.
Also, Diaz coupled with Alvaro Vazquez form a lethal pair and the Hyderabad defence would indeed be vary of them. Urugyan playmaker Adrian Luna could tear apart the Hyderabad defence.
Midfielder Sahal Abdul Samad has sustained a thigh injury but Blasters' head coach Ivan Vukomanovic said that he could be available for the summit clash.
"He (Sahal) was doing practice with the medical staff in the morning but we will have to see him after the training and probably he could be available," Vukomanovic said at the pre-final press conference.
The head coach also reckoned that the final is the "easiest" to play because players are motivated and prepared.
A lot will depend on the midfield duo Lalthathanga Khawlhring and Ayush Adhikari, ably supported by Marko Leskovic and defensive partner Hormipam Ruivah, fresh off a national team call-up.
Also, this would be the first occasion since the outbreak of COVID-19, the fans would be in the stands cheering for favorite teams and a 100 per cent crowd has been allowed, so a sea of yellow is expected to turn up at the venue.
Indian football legend I M Vijayan and chief national coach Igor Stimac would be in attendance for the summit clash.
Match starts at 7.30 pm (IST).