Lights go out for ‘hyped up’ Blasters before ISL opener

“Our guys switched off the floodlights because they did not want us to lose,” the Blasters’ head coach Rene told the Gokulam gaffer Bino George after the I-League side forced the ISL runner-up to a goalless draw in the match that was cut short to 80 minutes.

Kerala Blasters Gokulam Kerala FC

The Kerala Blasters FC and Gokulam Kerala FC players during their football friendly in Kochi on Saturday night.   -  Special Arrangement

He may have just meant it as a joke but Rene Meulensteen had a good reason to be relieved when the lights went out ten minutes early in Kerala Blasters’ football friendly against I-League newcomer Gokulam Kerala FC here on Saturday night.

“Our guys switched off the floodlights because they did not want us to lose,” the Blasters’ head coach Rene told the Gokulam gaffer Bino George after the I-League side forced the Indian Super League runner-up to a goalless draw in the match that was cut short to 80 minutes at the Panampilly Nagar Sports Academy ground.

It was the Blasters’ first friendly at home after their month-long pre-season training in Spain and, though friendlies often do not give the right picture, there were plenty of giveaways that proved that the team is far from ready with the ISL just five days away from kick-off.

The match was closed to the media and the public but given the fact that the Blasters has the biggest fan base in the ISL, there were many who had perched on the academy’s compound walls, the vantage point.

“The match clearly showed that the Blasters has not settled down. And we created more chances, at least six compared to Blasters’ three, but we were not able to convert them into goals,” explained Bino.

The Blasters has a star-studded line-up this season, with former Manchester United striker and EPL Golden Boot winner Dimitar Berbatov being its biggest star.

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So, one was curious to know about the 36-year-old Bulgarian legend’s current form and fitness.

“Berbatov is slow now, he appears to have problems even running with the ball but his passes and final passes were all perfect. That showed his class,” revealed Bino.

“Looking at Blasters’ performance yesterday, I would say both of us are almost equal. Since this is just a friendly, the Blasters may not have gone all out but the players’ attitude did not give such an impression.”

Defender Sandesh Jhingan was missing but ISL’s all-time highest goal scorer Iain Hume, C.K. Vineeth, former Manchester United star Wes Brown, Ghanaian Courage Perkuson all featured in the friendly.

MIDFIELD WORRIES

Meanwhile P. Anilkumar, a former Services player and the current Kerala Football Association general secretary, felt that there were issues in the Blasters’ midfield.

“They were unable to dominate the midfield and that’s the reason why Gokulam got some clear chances. The Blasters players were not focusing on holding the ball in the midfield,” said Anilkumar, also a former coach.

“And performance-wise, Berbatov is good. His passes were accurate and his final passes were very positive but the standard of the other players, in expectation and anticipation, needs to be at that level. There is where the mismatch is.”

That means the Blasters, which plays Atletico de Kolkata in the ISL opener in Kochi on November 17, will take a few matches to settle down.

Anilkumar said that he was a bit disappointed with the Blasters but that was mainly because of the team’s huge build-up.

“My personal expectation about the Blasters, after we read the about its recruits and about its preparation, was much higher. When we see them in action, they are not up to that expected level, that is why the disappointment is there. And I felt that the team should have played more friendlies in India.”

Thankfully, the goalless ‘friendly’ came at a very crucial time ahead of the ISL. It will offer coach Rene a nice chance to look at the weak lines closely and set them right.

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