Returning from its outstation ventures unconquered but bruised, Atletico de Kolkata will look to mend its wounds and consolidate against the last year’s runners-up Kerala Blasters in their first home tie at the Salt Lake Stadium on Tuesday.
The host will be missing five players – Portuguese striker Helder Postiga, Botswana defender Ofentse Nato and Indians Baljit Singh Sahni, Arnab Mondal and Rino Anto – due to injury, national duty and suspension. Coach Antonio Habas acknowledged his team’s difficult situation but said they are prepared for the challenge. “I have absolute confidence in the 18 players that I have for selection. We have started well in the season having beaten Chennaiyin FC and picked up a point against FC Goa, which was a very tough match,” Habas said.
The match will be a special occasion with the presence of Brazilian legend Pele among the audience. The King of Football will be having a session with the ATK players before the match, which Habas said would serve as a great motivation for the team. “Having Pele in the audience is a good idea, especially because the team is playing its first home match before its fans,” Habas said.
With Salt Lake Stadium returning to natural turf, the home side sounded quite upbeat. “This will be less traumatic for the players,” Habas said referring to the experience he had in the inaugural season last year where his team had to play on artificial field turf.
Kerala Blasters, in comparison, are missing only two Indians--defender Sandesh Jinghan and midfielder Cavin Lobo—who are on national duty. The team, which has four points after a 3-1 win against North East United FC and a goalless draw against Mumbai City FC, will be strengthened by the inclusion of its marquee player Carlos Marchena. The Spanish World Cupper, who missed the first two outings because of injury, is available for selection revealed the Kerala Blasters head coach Peter Taylor.
The former England manager said that he would like to continue with the rotation policy as it saves a player from getting worn out after playing close matches. “We have started well this season and are already on four points, which we had reached after playing five matches last season,” Taylor said. “We have a decent team shape and expect to do well against a good side like Atletico de Kolkata,” he added.
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