Kochi: A triumphant Atletico de Kolkata head coach Jose Molina has hailed team work as the reason for his side's victory against Kerala Blasters in the summit clash of the Indian Super League (ISL).
"We played as a team, attacking as a team and defending as a team. Of course, you need good players to be a good team but I told the players from day one we need to play as a team not as individual players," Molina said after ATK lifted the ISL title for the second time in three years.
"Sometimes you have great players but not a great team. I don't like that. I like eleven players on the pitch working together. All my players understand my philosophy and they played as a team and I am absolutely happy about that.
"The team was different from the one last year, only four players remained (from last year's squad). Everywhere in the world, the usual league is nine or 10 months long. So, you have time to do different things. But here, it's just 10-12 weeks and you have to do things fast and win games.
"I think we did great work from the first day. We lost only two matches. In some matches, we could have played better. Finally, we reached the final and played great. We were playing well. Final touches were not good. But finally, we won on penalties," he said at the post-match press conference after ATK beat Kerala 4-3 via penalty shootout at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium at Kochi on Sunday night.
Both the sides were locked 1-1 after the regulation 90 minutes and then the 30-minute extra time before settling the issue in the penalty shootout. ATK had beaten Kerala by a solitary goal in the final of the inaugural edition in 2014.
"We wanted to win the match in 90 minutes. We could have gone up 3-1 at half time (had we scored from the chances). But we did not score. The second half was not that good and then we had to be in a penalty shootout," said the Spaniard who had coached La Liga sides Villarreal.
He revealed that he did not choose the penalty takers and left it to the individual players to take a call on themselves.
Indian player Jewel Raja Shaikh scored ATK's fifth and final score as his side won the penalty shootout 4-3. Sameehg Doutie, Borja Fernandez and Javier Lara were the other ATK players who found the target in the shootout while Iain Hume's shot was blocked by Kerala goalkeeper Graham Stack.
"No, I did not choose the players to take the penalties. Jewel Raja came to me before the shootout and he said he will shoot at number five. I said fine, shoot. Iain Hume came and said he would shoot first and I said go ahead.
"I have to know what the players feel, how tired they were and the kind of pressure they would feel at that point of time when he takes the penalty shoot. If 10 players come and say I will shoot, then I have to pick five. All the players who took the penalties in the match, all of them came to me and said they will shoot. I said go ahead. I did not pick them," he said.
Asked how happy he was about the performance of Indian players, Molina said, "I think all the Indian players did a great job from the beginning. I was absolutely impressed about them, how they worked. They want to learn, they asked me how to improve their game. That was what impressed me. They are professional players and they have quality. Debjit did a great job. All of them, Pritam Kotal, Lalrindika Ralte, Keegan Pereira, I am absolutely happy. They did a great job."
Asked if he went blank after Jewel Raja scored from the final penalty to hand ATK the victory, Molina said, "No, I don't know. I don't remember what was in my mind. But I was absolutely happy after the final penalty. My family is here. They came here yesterday to watch the match."
Meanwhile, Kerala head coach Steve Coppell expressed his frustration at the scheduling in the lead-up to final.
"We didn't lose, we drew the game. We lost the league on penalties, it's cool and I would like to congratulate Kolkata and the game was even and anybody could have won, and two very tired teams played. From our point of view we played three games in seven days and we had to travel to Delhi when we should not have had to travel to Delhi (for the second semifinal leg)," he said.
Before the final, Coppell had also said that as his side had finished higher (in second place) than Delhi (third place) after the league stage, Kerala should have played their second leg semifinals at home.
"I don't want to sound like sour grapes because Kolkata have won it. But we should have not had to travel to Delhi and after the game in Delhi we could not get any flights to fly out of Delhi and we had to stay in Delhi for a day and the next day we had to fly back to Kochi.
"Because of air ticket issues we had to split the team in five different groups and the players started flying back at 5 o'clock in the morning and the last players got to the hotel (here) at 8 o'clock at night," said the Englishman who has coached English Premier League sides, including Manchester City.
"(Having all that in mind) I thought my players were fantastic and I can only compliment them on giving so much of themselves in the final match and throughout the league and the Kerala fans made the occasion and on behalf of the players and the support staff I would like to say thank you to the fans and sorry that we could not bring the trophy but it was a great experience." Kerala's marquee player Aaron Hughes was replaced by Elhadji Ndoye in the first half after picking up an injury.
Commenting on the impact the Northern Ireland international's early withdrawal on Kerala's game, Coppell said, "First and foremost, we knew we were taking a calculated risk with Aaron Hughes. He was having trouble from Delhi and it was not an ideal situation. I forced him to start and if it was an ordinary game he would have not played.
"From the first minute, he was struggling a bit and I made the decision to make a change and I think there weren't many chances created and I think that is because both teams have played so many games in the last seven- eight days and the heat here was very draining.
"So, going forward there should be a bigger gap between the final and the semi-final, and put the final on the pedestal it deserves. The teams have played 14 weeks to get here, so give them a chance to field their strongest team rather than patch-work."
Coppell also rued the lack of depth in his squad that came to the surface in the final as Blasters found it difficult to cope with the absence of Josu Currais, who was serving an automatic suspension on account of yellow card accumulation.
"I have said from day one that the squad wasn't balanced but I think we did great to adapt to the situation and Josu played as left-back and adapted and we missed him tonight and I think Ishfaq (Ahmed) did a tremendous job.
"I hope next season the squad will be more balanced. Kolkata made nine changes (in the second leg semifinals) and I don't think any other team in the league would have made so many changes and they delivered in a hostile atmosphere in Mumbai, so again you will probably argue that they have a deeper squad," he said.
Asked if he plans to return to the dugout with Kerala next season, Coppell said, "Well I think when you are feeling so bad after the result it is the wrong time to talk about it and I want to go home and see my mom as she is a lady of a certain age.
"After that I will speak with the owners and see what their plans are and there is a lot to be done at this club to reward the supporters with the right set-up. So, we have to discussed it, the future, not just my future but the future of the club going forward and I am sure that the ownership will make sure that the club is better prepared going forward. It does not guarantee that they will be successful but lessons learnt from this season will be carried forward."
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Updated Date: Dec 19, 2016 12:05:36 IST