Coppell: 'Reaching the final a massive achievement'

Kerala Blasters head coach Steve Coppell was full of praise for his squad, which defied odds to reach the final of this season's Hero Indian Super League, where it will play Atletico de Kolkata in what will be a rematch of the 2014 ISL final.

The finalists...(From left) Kerala Blasters' coach Steve Coppell and player Aaron Hughes with ATK's marquee player Helder Postiga and coach Jose Molina.   -  ISL

Kerala Blasters head coach Steve Coppell was full of praise for his squad, which defied odds to reach the final of this season's Hero Indian Super League, where it will play Atletico de Kolkata. Sunday's match will be a repeat of the 2014 final which the Kolkata side won to clinch the inaugural title.

“We had one point from the first three matches. To improve from that position and reach the final is a massive achievement. I am very proud of my team,” said the Kerala gaffer at the pre-match pressconference.

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Kerala Blasters has won its last six matches played on home turf, the venue for the final, but the former Manchester United star said the game will be won by the 22 players on the pitch. “It will obviously be a comfortable atmosphere for us because it’s our home crowd but whoever wins tomorrow needs to earn the trophy by playing well.

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"I am sure both sides have that intention going into the game. The crowd is nothing more than a great background for us to play against but it won’t give us a goal-start or stop goals going in,” said Coppell.

Kerala Blasters’ strength this season has been its defence but with regular left-back Josue Currais suspended for match, Coppell faces a tough challenge with his squad selection. “We have various options and we will take a decision soon. But these things happen. It’s the very nature of the game,” said Coppell.

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ATK coach Jose Molina made nine changes to his squad for the second-leg of the semifinal against Mumbai City FC, but Coppell had no such luxuries. His team had to grind out a 120-minute long match in Delhi but the manager refused to blame it on the two-legged semifinal system followed by the ISL. “The system is good but it is supposed to help the team that comes on top. Unfortunately, we had to play our second match away. But we got through to the final, so it will look bad if I sit and complain now,” stressed the coach, who also said that the semifinal should be played at a neutral venue if any advantage can’t be offered to the team that finished top and scored more away goals.

Kochi’s ‘Yellow Arena’ is easily one of the noisiest stadiums in the league and ATK marquee Helder Postiga, who is accustomed to such atmospheres, expects the crowd to make it difficult for the away team.

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“I expect a big crowd tomorrow. It’s one of the best atmospheres in ISL. When we played here, we saw how difficult Kerala can be,” said the Portuguese front-man.

While Indian defenders and midfielders have excelled in the tournament, strikers have struggled, with the likes of Indian international Jeje Lalpekhlua struggling to secure a starting place. The former Tottenham Hotspur striker, though, said he has seen a lot of improvement in the local players. “Indians have been scoring goals this season and they have really improved. It’s only a matter time before they come up.”

ATK has one of the most complete squads in ISL, with back-ups for every position, but coach Molina stuck to a cautious stance ahead of the match. “I don’t know whether we are the most consistent. It’s true we only lost two matches but I have respect for all teams. Kerala has had a great season but we will try to win. We want the trophy,” said Molina.

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