Kerala Blasters were robbed of a fairytale ending to their Indian Super League season after they suffered a heartbreaking penalty shootout loss in the finals of the tournament. Cedric Hengbart and Elhadji Ndoye failed to convert their spot kicks, allowing Jewel Raja to hand Atletico de Kolkata their second title in three years.
The Blasters endured a tough start to the game as visitors Kolkata hit the ground running in the early minutes. Iain Hume and Helder Postiga displayed great combination play, troubling the Blasters' rearguard. The hosts, however, took the lead against the run of play, only for the visitors to equalise within minutes.
But the goals seemed to suck the life out of the game, which became increasingly cagey after the interval. Both teams regained their defensive organisation, while their attacks lacked the required thrust at times.
Blasters' coach Steve Coppell highlighted the heavy run of games and travel leading into the final as the reason for the game fizzling out after half time.
"The game tonight was even and anybody could have won, and two very tired teams (played today). From our point of view, we played three games in seven days and we had to travel to Delhi when we shouldn’t have had to travel to Delhi," Coppell told the media after the game.
"In Delhi, we could not get any flights out and had to stay back for a day. The next day, we had to fly back to Kochi and we had to split the team into five different groups...the players started flying back at five o’clock in the morning and the last players got to the hotel at eight in the night," the English coach said.
The former Reading manager hailed his players for putting up a strong show in the final, despite all the hassles they faced before the big game.
"I thought my players were fantastic and I can only compliment them on giving so much of themselves tonight and throughout the league...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,” Coppell said.
The 61-year-old coach called for longer gap between the semifinals and the final, to ensure that both teams that earn the right to play in the showpiece event get the chance to play in the best possible condition.
"Going forward, there should be a bigger gap between the final and the semi-final...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 do patch-work,” the former Manchester United midfielder added.
However, Coppell admitted that his squad lacked the depth and balance needed for the tournament from day one and felt that it is something that the club must learn going forward. “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. We missed him tonight and I think Ishfaq (Ahmed) did a tremendous job. Next time, the squad will be more balanced," Coppell said.
Blasters' opponents, Kolkata, on the other hand, made wholesale changes to their team before every game and Coppell felt that this ability of theirs is down to the strength of their squad. "Kolkata made nine changes and I don’t think any other team in the league would have made so many changes...they delivered in a hostile atmosphere in Mumbai, so again you will probably argue that they have a deeper squad,” he said.
The Englishman dropped a few hints over his possible return as Blasters' manager next season and said that he will have a look at the situation only after the turn of the year.
“Well, I think that when you are feeling bad after a result...it is the wrong time to talk about it and I want to go home and see my mom...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. We have 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. It does not guarantee that they will be successful, but lessons learnt from this season will be carried forward.” Coppell said.
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Updated Date: Dec 19, 2016 13:36:06 IST