Kerala Blasters' final jinx in the Indian Super League (ISL) continued as the Yellow Brigade went down to Hyderabad FC on penalties at Fatorda on Sunday night. It was the third loss in the summit clash for Blasters as Hyderabad clinched the title in their maiden final appearance. Despite the heartbreaking loss, it was a memorable campaign for Blasters after four seasons of disappointment.
Head coach Ivan Vukomanovic has played a stellar role in scripting a stunning turnaround in his first season in charge of the Kochi-based side. The Serb has moulded Blasters into an attacking side, but while laying emphasis on aggressive football he could put together a rock solid defence which had a good balance of experience and youth.
There were a number of standout performers for Blasters in Season 8. Forwards Alvaro Vazquez and Jorge Pereyra Díaz, midfielder Adrian Luna, local lad Sahal Abdul Samad, young defender Hormipam Ruivah and goalkeeper Prabhsukhan Singh Gill were the most consistent performers. Blasters had fielded many star-studded squads in the past, but none of them possessed the current team's self-belief or the unwavering spirit.
Blasters, who began with a 2-4 loss to ATK Mohun Bagan in the season opener, went on a 10-match unbeaten run before the COVID-19 outbreak halted their momentum. However, the players showed great character and fighting spirit in the face of adversity to remain focused and productive. Definitely, the gaffer deserves praise for keeping the team morale high.
They outplayed holders Mumbai City FC to secure the fourth and final play-off spot before edging League Shield winners Jamshedpur FC 2-1 on aggregate to enter the final for the third time.
And in the final, Blasters were just a few minutes away from a triumph in front of a sea of yellow. The stunning equaliser by Sahil Tavora handed Hyderabad a lifeline in the 88th minute before goalkeeper Laxmikant Kattimani came up with a splendid show in the shootout to deny Blasters. In fact, Blasters were terrible in the penalty shootout as they missed three of their four kicks.
It is a fact that Blasters have a history of near misses in the ISL. However, under Vukomanovic, they are in good hands and their loyal fans can look forward to another rewarding season. If Blasters manage to build a team around this core group next season, they will be strong contenders.