Kerala Blasters enters a new, unknown world

The ISL franchise will, for the first time, face an overseas opposition in a competitive environment when the pre-season tournament begins on Tuesday.

Melbourne City head coach Warren Joyce speaks to the media ahead of the Toyota Yaris La Liga World pre-season football tournament in Kochi on Monday.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Kerala Blasters will enter a new unknown world when it starts the Toyota Yaris La Liga World pre-season football tournament at the Nehru Stadium here on Tuesday.

For the first time, the Indian Super League side will test itself against foreign clubs in a competitive environment, first against the Australian A-League side Melbourne City FC on Tuesday and then against Spain's Girona FC, which had a very impressive run in its La Liga debut last season, on Saturday.

Clubs frequently use pre-season games to experiment, to test players’ fitness and team’s balance — results often don’t matter in such events. But David James, the Blasters head coach, also made it clear that he has a hungry group of players who want to win games.

Read: Is City Football Group eyeing Blasters?

“This is a wonderful learning opportunity to play the opposition which is definitely ranked higher than the Indian league in world football. So, we want to win and we want to the do the right things as well,” said the former England World Cupper.

“With the level of the opposition, one of the best sides in the A-League and one of the better sides in the La Liga, we have to be realistic in one sense. It is also a test to see how good we are against teams from outside India.”

James said he was encouraged by his team’s new signings which now includes goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh who came up with a stunning performance for host India in the under-17 World Cup last year.

“There is a lot of expectation about Dheeraj and we expect a lot from him,” said the Blasters gaffer making it clear that the youngster will be given a start on Tuesday. The team’s new Serbian attacker, Slavisa Stojanovic, will also be watched closely.

But missing will be C. K. Vineeth who is down with a jaw injury. The team has a lot of young faces and this time, with 11 players from the home State, will be a big boost to Kerala football.

With the A-League starting in mid-October, which could probably be close to the ISL kickoff, James feels that Melbourne is in a similar situation to the Blasters. But Girona, which stunned the mighty Real Madrid 2-1 in a La Liga game last season, is much closer to the start of its season (in mid August). The Spanish team will land  in Kochi on Wednesday.

Meanwhile Warren Joyce, the Melbourne coach and a former Manchester United reserve team manager, said he would use Tuesday’s match to try out his entire team.

Despite the rain, he appeared happy with the conditions at the Nehru Stadium.

“The pitch looks perfect, no complaints about that. Just looking forward to the game,” he said.

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