Kerala FC, NorthEast to battle for semis spot (Preview)

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Kochi, Dec 3 (IANS) Kerala Blasters FC and NorthEast United FC face a desperate battle to secure the last semi-final spot when they lock horns in an Indian Super League (ISL) match here on Sunday.

The Blasters need only a draw to qualify for the semi-finals and should be at an advantage since they are playing at home where they have won four matches in a row.

“We just play. I don’t know how to play for a draw. We play to try and win the game. As the game develops, obviously people make decisions. The coaches will try and change (approach).

“As the game develops, the consequences will become apparent but certainly at the start, we are going in to win, trying to win. That’s the only way we can approach,” Kerala Blasters manager Steve Coppell said during the pre-match media interaction here on Saturday.

Kerala have been strong at home, winning four matches in a row while their away performance has been patchy.

Coppell admitted that Kerala had their “pants taken off” against Mumbai City FC — when they lost 0-5 — but they can find comfort in home surroundings, especially at a time when Kochi has been awarded the right to host this year’s final.

“I think it’s the best atmosphere at any of the grounds we have played. There is the biggest crowd, the best atmosphere. It’s a wise decision by the league to select Kochi.

“Kerala loves football, the people love their football and whether we are in the final or not, I am sure the people here will embrace the final and make it a great spectacle for everyone watching,” Coppell said.

If the Blasters are entertaining any hope of playing the final at home even with midfielder Mehtab Hossain suspended, they must stop NorthEast United FC.

The visitors have never made it to the knock-out stage in the previous two seasons and will be determined to qualify for the first time in three attempts.

“I am sure tomorrow we will have a fantastic atmosphere. It’s hard for the team which will be out but this is the best side of football. You can say we played enough quality football to be already qualified. (But) football is not only performance, it’s about results.

“Tomorrow we will be here for one thing: result, and as you know, performance is forgotten and result remains forever. I hope we can have a great game,” NorthEast manager Nelo Vingada said.

Vingada is aware that the Blasters will have an added advantage because they will be backed by the home crowd, but is confident of his team’s chances.

“Kerala has an advantage with so many fans supporting them, but that will not be enough. Who can win the game are the players inside the field. I know it will be hard for us because we must win but we are here to win,” he said.

Interestingly, the two teams were the first to play each other this season as ISL 2016 kicked off in Guwahati on October 1 with NorthEast United clinching a solitary goal victory at home.

–IANS

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