The Islanders head coach shared his thoughts with the media ahead of the first leg of the ISL 2020-21 semi-final clash against FC Goa.

After sealing the AFC Champions League spot, Mumbai City FC will take on FC Goa across a two-legged semifinal tie in the Indian Super League (ISL). Ahead of the game, Sergio Lobera and his boys have already made their desire clear of doing the double and lifting the ISL trophy in addition to the league winners’ shield this season. In the ongoing campaign, the two sides have faced each other twice so far out of which the Islanders won once while the second contest resulted in a thrilling 3-3 draw.

On Thursday, head coach Lobera and towering defender Mourtada Fall addressed the media personnel on behalf of Mumbai City FC in the pre-match press conference.

Thoughts on Friday’s game

Both Mumbai and Sergio Lobera have the opportunity to win their maiden ISL trophy after a scintillating campaign so far. Reflecting the camp’s upbeat mood, the head coach said, “Obviously, it’s a special game.

“We are playing the semi-final with the option to win the trophy after what I think was a big achievement to finish at the top of the table. We need to be smart. We need to be ready to play for 180 minutes. I think tomorrow is the first step. We are working as always to try to put all the focus on ourselves, to improve as much as possible. We are very excited and let’s enjoy the playoffs,” he further added.

Difference between winning the two league winners’ shields

Lobera claimed that this is the second League Winners’ Shield in a row for him. However, he was robbed of the chance to stay on till the end of the journey with the Gaurs in 2019-20.

When asked how different was it to stay with the Islanders till the end of their successful league campaign this season, the 44-year-old gleefully said, “Obviously, I can celebrate. I could celebrate this (win) on the pitch. This is the big difference (from last season). But I am very happy. I am very happy with the job of my players. I think we deserved to lift (the Shield) after the game against ATK (Mohun Bagan) because we had made a big effort across a long time while living inside a bio-bubble. You know the situation, it’s not just for our team, it’s for all teams. But finally, to celebrate (this win) on the pitch, it’s amazing.”

Emotionality behind the success

Sergio Lobera and his entire coaching staff looked visibly emotional after the victory against ATK Mohun Bagan. Pondering on the emotional aspect behind the win, the tactician said, “It’s special obviously. As a coach, you always want to win. In your career, it’s very important to achieve trophies, to achieve something important – especially this year because working with the City Football Group (CFG) and Mumbai City has been an amazing experience. This year I enjoyed a lot while working with people with a lot of knowledge about football.”

He additionally said, “CFG give us all the tools we needed to work with and we worked in the best possible conditions. After the first meeting that I had in Manchester with CFG itself, I knew this was a big project, a big challenge and I accepted this because I felt we are on the same page. I am very happy because the Mumbai City family deserve to enjoy this moment.”

On Hugo Boumous’ return

Mumbai City FC’s squad will be bolstered as Hugo Boumous returns to the squad after serving his four-match suspension. The attacking midfielder had scored and assisted a goal each in his last appearance in the league, which was also incidentally against FC Goa.

Speaking on the significance of his star player’s return, Lobera quipped, “You know Boumous is a very important player for us, for our style of play. I think he can help us a lot right now at this moment. It was painful for us – his four-game suspension, especially if we compared that with other situations in the league. But we accept it, we respect the rules. Now we have the player back and it’s important for us to use him for these playoffs and hopefully for the final too.”

On Juan Ferrando’s comments on Mumbai’s budget

FC Goa head coach Juan Ferrando had claimed before the last encounter between these two teams that Mumbai needed to win the championship due to their supposedly high budget. Sergio Lobera welcomed such hefty expectations and claimed that it only reflects the respect that Ferrando has for the Islanders.

He said, “It’s amazing when the other coach and the former League Winners’ Shield winners consider us as favourites. It’s amazing. I want this, because this means that he respects us and it’s good for us. I love it when people speak about Mumbai City (as) the favourites because this means they are thinking that we are better than them. It’s good for us, very good for us.

“I love this pressure but ultimately, we need to play on the pitch. The favourites in a press conference, it’s very easy to talk and use some words but finally, you need to show this on the pitch,” he reminded others.

Mourtada Fall’s brief comments

A man of few words, Mourtada Fall reflected on doing well in the semis this year after bowing out at this stage with FC Goa in 2019-20.

“Yeah of course, but before last year we reached the final too, let’s not forget. We lost the final, so always believe. This is different. This is two games, you know. We need to manage well, and our objective is to reach the final. Of course, I believe,” the centre-back quipped.

Probed whether playing against his former side makes any difference at this stage, Fall said, “No, no, it doesn’t make any difference. Now I am with Mumbai City and we are professionals, so we play the same way irrespective of the team we face. We don’t have any such problem, you know. We need to make our job to win the semi-final.”

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