ISL preview: 'We'll attack,' says Kerala Blasters head coach as Odisha beckon

Harmanjot Khabra of Kerala Blasters in training on the eve of their ISL match against Odisha FC in Bhubaneswar on Saturday. Photo: ISL

Kerala Blasters head coach Ivan Vukomanovic said his side will stick to attacking football as they face Odisha FC in their first away match of the Indian Super League season in Bhubaneswar on Sunday.

"Attacking football is the way we want to play," said Vukomanovic in his pre-match press conference in Bhubaneswar. "But whether we play home or away, we know every game will be difficult.

"We are expecting Odisha FC to be strong and aggressive, but we are prepared to play the hard game and show the quality,” said the Serbian.

The Blasters had mixed fortunes in their first two matches, both played at home, in Kochi. After a thrilling season-opening 3-1 win over East Bengal, the team in yellow suffered a humiliating 2-5 defeat to ATK Mohun Bagan on October 16.

Odisha had a similar journey, a winning start (3-2) against Jamshedpur followed by a defeat (2-0) to Mumbai City, both in away encounters.

Odisha head coach Joseph Gombau was respectful of the opposition on the eve of the match. "Kerala is a very strong opponent. They played in the last final. It will be a good game," said Gombau. His goalkeeper Amrinder Singh was, however, more bullish. "I think we can hurt anyone in this league," said Amrinder.

Remembering a thriller at Kalinga
Sunday's encounter will be the first ISL match played at the Kalinga Stadium since the 2019-20 season. The last two seasons of the ISL were played in a bio-bubble, at neutral venues in Goa, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Odisha and Blasters had a win each and two draws in their last four meetings. But, their previous encounter at the Kalinga had ended in a thrilling 4-4 draw.

Interestingly, Gombau was in-charge of Odisha back then. Odisha had made a thrilling start with a goal in the 2nd minute and the Blasters, then managed by Eelco Schattorie, were level just four minutes later.

Odisha striker Manuel Onwu's hat-trick was the highlight of the match but the Blasters' fans might remember that night for their incredible comeback from 2-4 down to earn a point with a couple of penalties scored by Bart Ogbeche in the final 10 minutes.

At least four members of the Odisha squad from that match, namely Shubham Sarangi, Carlos Delgado, Jerry Mawihmingthanga and Nandhakumar Sekar are expected to play on Sunday.

As for the Blasters, Sahal Abdul Samad, Jeakson Singh, Rahul KP and Jessel Carneiro, who played at the Kalinga in the 4-4 draw, will be hoping for a better outcome. Kerala Blasters' midfielder Puitea was asked what they expect from the match. "It is simple. We are here for three points," said the central midfielder.

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