The tactician expressed his thoughts ahead of the ultimate clash in the ISL.

Hyderabad FC will meet Kerala Blasters in the final of the 2021-22 season of the Indian Super League on 20 March 2022. The PJN Stadium in Fatorda will be the venue, as the two teams challenge for the title. While the Yellow Army have previously played in the playoffs, this is the first occasion for the Nizams, who will be looking to create more history. Before the match, head coach Manolo Marquez and skipper Joao Victor interacted with the media, answering questions. Here is what the pair had to say in the pre-match press conference:

Assessment of season

Analyzing the season, Manolo Marquez said, “We are very happy to be here. It was a hard season, especially in terms of mentality. Our strength is the group of players and the staff, we went in the same direction even during hard moments like COVID. You’re not only in a bubble but you also have to be in your room.

“I think the club is growing year-by-year and step-by-step. This year we finished second and we will have the thought of what could have happened if we played against Jamshedpur with a full squad. We are satisfied, the players are incredible and now let’s see what happens. Anything can happen tomorrow,” he reflected.

Praise for Kerala Blasters

Speaking in regard to their opponents in the final, Manolo Marquez praised KBFC and noted, “I think if there is a characteristic in ISL 8, is every team can beat any team. When we play with any team, we know if we don’t give a good performance, we can lose to any team. If we play a good game, we can beat any team.

“In the case of Kerala, they did not start well, but some injuries to key players like Albino Gomes, Rahul KP and so on saw players like Prabhsukhan Gill, (Ruivah) Hormipam played well to get into the team, with a lot of confidence. They have very good foreigners in both attack and defence. It could have been Kerala or Jamshedpur, the semi-final was very equal.” 

On fans being in stands & challenges of COVID

The final will see the return of fans in the stadium and speaking on the prospect of playing with spectators, the tactician delightfully stated, “It is fantastic. Football is for the people. If you can play in front of 20,000 fans, it is better than playing in an empty stadium.”

“In the last month, we did not know what players we had for selection. For example against Mumbai, seven players went out of the room directly to the stadium. Joel (Chianese) and Asish (Rai) could not play in the last few games, (the latter) playing 10-15 minutes the other day,” he explained while talking about team selection troubles due to positive cases of COVID.

Crossing as a tactic

One of HFC’s main attributes is their wing play, leading to many crosses. Speaking on this tactic of the team, Manolo Marquez said, “You have to know all the information, but you have to learn to use what is important and what is not. I know that we are the team with more crosses.

“Thing is that you have to cross with players in the box. Of course, we will cross when we have options in the box, but I think it’s important that we have the usual personality when we have the ball.”

Joao Victor’s assessment of campaign 

The skipper gave his account of the season by saying, “I think the good work we had done until now has been incredible. Unfortunately, we could not arrive at the playoffs (last year), but it was good for the club as we had very good young players, foreigners were good last year. As the coach said, this has been an amazing season.”

Joao Victor on preparation for final & life in bubble

In the build-up to the most crucial game of the season, the midfielder explained how it is something they are always prepared for, by saying, “We prepare for the whole season for this moment. I don’t think there is any team that starts the season thinking they won’t get to the finals. Even SC East Bengal or NorthEast United, which finished at the bottom of the league table, would have wanted to be in the final. We prepare our whole lives to be in a game like this. We are ready.”

“It is hard to be in the bubble, to be away from your families. Last year was hard, but this year was harder because we had to stay inside for more than 10 days because of COVID, which we did not have last year. Whoever can manage this situation better would have arrived at the final,” the midfielder explained in regard to life in the bubble.

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