Kerala Blasters and Odisha FC raring to go

Left: Daisuke Sakai, Source: Kerala Blasters X. Right: Ahmed Jahouh, Source: Odisha FC X

The ISL playoffs are all set to kick-start with a mouth-watering clash as Odisha FC lock horns with Kerala Blasters FC at the Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneshwar, with a semi-final spot at stake. Both teams seek redemption after a roller coaster ride during the group stage. Kerala Blasters, playing their third ISL playoffs in a row, started strongly but failed to maintain momentum. Ivan Vukomanovic’s side managed only two wins from their last 11 outings.

Similarly, Odisha FC had a flying start to their ISL 2023-24 campaign and were considered favourites for the Shield. However, their ambitions took a hit after a rough patch towards the end of the group stage. Though Sergio Lobera’s side won only two games from their last seven outings, the Spanish coach sounded confident ahead of the playoff tie. “We need to put the focus on tomorrow’s game against a very good team, Kerala Blasters. It won’t be easy, but we are playing at the Kalinga Stadium, and hopefully, we can reach the semi-finals and play against the best team in India at this moment, Mohun Bagan SG. They have won the Shield and (we wish) to show everyone we are ready to compete against every team and in every competition,” said Lobera.
Odisha FC will take confidence from their unbeaten home run at the Kalinga Stadium, with eight wins and three draws. Sergio Lobera will rely on Roy Krishna and Diego Mauricio’s goal-scoring prowess to overcome Kerala Blasters, as the visitors looked vulnerable in defence. The Krishna-Mauricio duo has scored 22 goals together this season, while the Blasters haven’t kept a clean sheet since December 2023.

Though Odisha’s head-to-head record against Kerala isn’t favourable, they have enough weapons in their arsenal. From Ahmed Jahouh, Puitea in midfield to Mourtada Fall and Amey Ranawade in defence, Odisha looks a hard nut to crack for Ivan’s side. Kerala will also miss Dimitrios Diamantakos, their key striker, due to injury. Ivan Vukomanovic will be relieved with the return of Adrian Luna, their midfield stalwart, who has three goals and four assists this season.
But he’s doubtful whether Luna will play a full game or not “We have to take in some considerations, when you are coming back after four and a half, five months. The weather conditions and everything where you need three water breaks in one half, you know, in these (humid) conditions. So, it’s obvious that he cannot play 90 minutes. But we will see how many minutes he will be available to play. Probably we’ll see him tomorrow on the pitch after so long, with pleasure.” Vukomanovic.said about Luna’s return.


Players to watch out for:
Odisha FC – Diego Mauricio, with 10 goals and an assist, poses a major threat.

Kerala Blasters – Without Diamantakos, Luna and

will be crucial. Sakai’s set-piece abilities can create goal scoring opportunities.

Played – 22
Kerala Blasters FC – 9
Odisha FC – 6
Draws – 7

Predicted XI:

Odisha FC: Amrinder Singh (GK), Mourtada Fall, Carlos Delgado, Amey Ranawade, Jerry Lalrinzuala, Lalthathanga Khawlhring, Ahmed Jahouh, Princeton Rebello, Jerry Mawihmingthanga, Isak Vanlalruatfela, Diego Mauricio.

Kerala Blasters: Karanjit (GK), Milos Drinic, Marko Leskovic, Pritam Kotal, Sandeep Singh, Daisuke Sakai, Vibin Mohanan, Jeakson Singh, Rahul KP, Fedor Cernych, Mohammed Aimen

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