Deluge wets Kerala Blasters’ gunpowder!

A good show by the Kochi-based Kerala Blasters in the coming ISL can bring some solace to a football-loving Kerala which is struggling to rebuild lives after recent floods.

Matej Poplatnik, the 26-year-old Slovenian, is lethal inside the box.   -  Special arrangement

The state of Kerala is going through its worst period in history. It hasn’t yet recovered from the devastating floods that claimed nearly 500 lives and displaced a million.

Among the districts most badly hit is Ernakulam, the base of Kerala Blasters. The team, therefore, had to move its pre-season training to Ahmedabad.

The Blasters had been humbled by formidable rivals Melbourne City and Girona FC in the La Liga tournament at Kochi in July. Nobody expected the Blasters to stun those far superior sides, but conceding 11 goals in those two matches must have hurt the team and its fans. At the ISL, the Blasters are, of course, not going to face opponents having quality anywhere near as those two foreign clubs. Still, it will have to come up with a better show than it managed in the last edition of the tournament, in which it ended up sixth.

The sacking of coach Rene Muelensteen midway through the season — the team could post just one win in eight games, after being the finalist in the previous edition — was among the many developments in a dismal season for the Blasters. The team is hoping to put all that behind and is aiming high.

We want to be the first Kerala Blasters to win the ISL. It was tough last year for me because the team ran out of matches, said coach David James.   -  ISL/SPORTZPICS

 

Though the Blasters will be without Canadian striker Iain Hume — its most popular player ever — the expectations are indeed high, especially with some of the new signings. Serbia’s Nikola Krcmarevic will have the task to spruce up the midfield. Another Serbian, Slavisa Stojanovic, and Matej Poplatnik of Slovenia should sharpen the attack. The already strong defence — led by Sandesh Jhingan — has been further bolstered by the arrivals of Frenchman Cyril Kali and local talents Anas Edathodika and Abdul Hakku.

“Matej Poplatnik and Slavisa Stojanovic have tremendous football attributes,” David James, who returned to Kochi as the replacement of Muelensteen, told Sportstar from Thailand, where the team was training. “With the combined talents of the rest of the team, the fans will be treated by seeing their best football.”

If that happens, it will give some solace to a soccer-crazy people struggling to rebuild lives.

Player to watch

The Blasters scored only 20 goals in 18 games in the last ISL; only three teams scored less. Matej Poplatnik, the 26-year-old Slovenian striker, who can be particularly lethal inside the box, could well be the answer for the Kochi team’s obvious problems up front. The Blasters must be desperately hoping that he carries on from from where he left off back home — he scored 46 goals from 68 games for Triglav Kranj in the last two seasons.

The squad

Goalkeepers: Dheeraj Singh, Naveen Kumar and Sujith Sasikumar.

Defenders: Anas Edathodika, Cyril Kali, Lalruatthara, Mohamad Rakip, Nemanja Lakic-Pesic, Sandesh Jhingan and Pritam Singh.

Midfielders: Courage Pekuson, Deependra Negi, Halicharan Narzary, Hrishi Dhath, Keziron Kizito, Loken Meitei, Nikola Krcmarevic, Prasanth K., Sahal Abdul Samad, Seiminlen Doungel, Suraj Rawat and Zakeer Mundampara.

Forwards: C. K. Vineeth, Matej Poplatnik and Slavisa Stojanovic.