Worried that it would miss the playoffs bus, the Kerala Blasters FC will be hoping that one or two of its players upfront ‘explode’ and produce the goals in the ninth round Indian Super League game against Zico’s FC Goa at the Nehru Stadium here on Tuesday evening.
Ironically, the Blasters and Goa – which finished runner-up in the past two editions, the former in the first and the other in the last – are now at the bottom of the eight-team table and realise that it is time to pull themselves out of the deep pit with just six rounds remaining.
“We’re looking for somebody to explode. I think upfront, we are looking for one or two players to really explode in the tail-end of the season,” said Steve Coppell, the Blasters head coach, at the Lulu Marriott on Monday.
The missing goals – the Blasters has put in just four in its last eight games, the least by any team this season – are a case for worry but if anyone has been nursing the feeling that the Kochi team is a defence-oriented side, content with away draws, Coppell brushed it away.
“People probably assume that we spend hours and hours practising defending. We don’t. I want my team to go forward as much as possible,” explained the 61-year-old Englishman in his lucid style.
“So, it’s not because of instructions from me or any other coaching staff, we play to our potential as much as possible and try to score as many goals as possible but when you are playing against very organised teams, it can be very hard.”
Kerala has been handed some hard blows by other unexpected circumstances too.
The Kochi-based side will be without its Irish marquee player Aaron Hughes (for World Cup qualifiers) who had formed a strong partnership with Frenchman Cedric Hengart in central defence. Haitian forward Duckens Nazon has also gone away on national duty.
To add to this, defender Rino Anto and midfielder C.K. Vineeth who figured in the Bengaluru FC team which made history, finishing runner-up in the recent AFC Cup in Doha, are yet to join the Blasters.
“For some unknown reason, the ISL is asking them to travel to Mumbai to do a photo-shoot! We play in Mumbai next week, they could wait till next week but at the moment they are demanding that they travel all the way to Mumbai tomorrow,” said Coppell.
Still, the Blasters will be very relieved to be back home to play in front of its awesome supporters after four away games spread over 21 days.
“We are the only team to have got four ISL games on the bounce. I don’t think that is right because the training facilities in a lot of places are poor, I think it’s a disadvantage” said Coppell.
The Blasters had won its away encounter 2-1 in Goa a fortnight ago after being down by a goal and will hope to gain a psychological edge from that.
Zico, meanwhile, stressed that Goa, currently in the last spot in the league table behind Kerala, will be going all out for a win.
“Both we and Kerala are in the same situation, we need to win. So, we will be pushing for a win, a draw can come but it is not a good result for both of us,” said the Brazilian legend.
Zico said that the team would be without four players, including former Brazilian World Cup winner Lucio, forwards Julio Cesar and Reinaldo and midfielder Pratesh Shirodkar who are down with injuries.
Bonus points for more goals in ISL?
Should the ISL hand out bonus points to teams which win by a handsome margin? Kerala manager suggested that the ISL could perhaps reward teams with points for goals to motivate them to score more.
“You look at this league, the team at the top has just scored nine goals. For whatever reason, there aren’t many goals that are scored by any team. You know, it’s a tight, tight league,” said Coppell.
“I think last year, may be, there was more of a gung-ho attitude. May be, the league should give points for goals. It happens in rugby, for tries and things like that.
“I think that would be a way of making teams more attack-minded. You score more than two, three goals you get extra points. Who knows?”
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