ISL: Blasters, North East meet in a do-or-die encounter

Fourth position and the final semifinal spot will be up for grabs when Kerala Blasters meets North East United at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in Kochi.

Kerala Blasters training ahead of its match against North East United.   -  Special Arrangement

Kerala Blasters is playing at home, it has an impressive record, having won its last four matches here and it has a one point advantage over its opponent but still Sunday’s Indian Super League encounter against NorthEast United FC presents a very tricky picture.

Blasters (with 19 points) just need a draw from their last game to qualify for the semifinal, so should it stay back and defend? Or should it go for a win at the Nehru Stadium?

That could be a dilemma of sorts.

“We’ll just play. We won’t go out and think, ‘we’ll try and protect what we have got’ because that would be suicide,” said Steve Coppell, the Blasters head coach, on Saturday.

“We’ll just play and whatever the score is at any particular time in the game, that will dictate what we need to do, and the players understand this 100 per cent so they will adjust accordingly as the game progresses.”

The Englishman admitted that NorthEast’s goal was clear.

“They have to come and win, their agenda is fairly well defined. Our agenda can be a little bit more widespread but to get in a strong position, defensively we have to be tight, we have to be as creative as possible, we just can’t withdraw into our shell,” said Coppell.

“And from an attacking sense, we have to be a threat. But NorthEast aren’t going to present anything to us, we have to earn whatever we get tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, NorthEast coach Nelo Vingada said that the fight for the last semifinal berth would be all about handling pressure.

“Tomorrow is like a final of the World Cup for them and for us. It’s our World Cup tomorrow,” said the Portuguese coach.

NorthEast had won the encounter between the two at Guwahati earlier and Vingada tried his best to pile on the pressure on his opponent.

“Theoretically, it is easy to play for a draw than for a win. But, to be honest, for me and for my team, it’s better to come to play for a win than for a draw because if we have to play for a draw, may be we may not be able to breathe properly,” he said.

“But if this game was happening in Guwahati and NorthEast needed just a draw and Kerala needed to win, I would not have been comfortable. Because, sometimes, we want to play for a draw and it gets difficult.”

And the huge home crowd, said Vingada, could add to the pressure.

While the Blasters will be without its experienced midfielder Mehtab Hossain, who will miss the game after receiving four yellow cards from previous games, Spaniard Josu Currias Prieto, the left back who has come up with impressive performances this season, is a doubtful starter after picking an injury during training.

For NorthEast, forward Nicholas Velez, who was forced to leave early in the team’s last game with an injury, could be doubtful while goalkeeper Subrata Pal and defender Gustava Lazzaretti are down with injuries.

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