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ISL 2023-24: Lobera lauds Odisha FC players' character in win over Kerala Blasters FC in knockout 1 (WATCH)

Odisha FC qualified for the semi-final of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 by beating Kerala Blasters FC by 2-1 at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Friday night.

football ISL 2023-24: Lobera lauds Odisha FC players' character in win over Kerala Blasters FC in knockout 1 (WATCH) snt
First Published Apr 20, 2024, 11:46 AM IST

Odisha FC's head coach, Sergio Lobera, expressed immense pride in his team's resilient performance as they staged a remarkable comeback to clinch a thrilling 2-1 victory against Kerala Blasters FC in the Knockout 1 of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 season at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Friday.

Initially, it was the Blasters who broke the deadlock, as Lithuanian forward Fedor Cernych found the net with a superb finish in the 67th minute. However, Odisha FC refused to give up, and in the 87th minute, Diego Mauricio leveled the scoreline with a well-timed tap-in from Roy Krishna's cross.

With the game tied at full time, the match proceeded to extra time where Odisha FC seized the opportunity to claim victory. Ahmed Jahouh delivered a sublime no-look long ball to Roy Krishna, who made a brilliant run behind the Kerala Blasters' defense, providing a precise cross for Isak Vanlalruatfela to slot home.

Despite Kerala Blasters FC's efforts to mount a comeback, Odisha FC maintained control in the closing stages, securing a historic win and booking their spot in the ISL semi-finals for the first time in their history.

Coach Lobera commended his team's unwavering determination and character throughout the match, expressing his immense pride in their achievement.

“We are very happy for our fans. And I am very happy because these players deserve to play in the semi-finals. This club also deserves to be there. I think the team showed character, and belief till the end, during all of the season. And today, in the most important game, to make history, (they did it) again, to reach the semi-final. For me as a coach, I am very happy. And I am very, very proud of my players because it's not easy to play this kind of game,” stated Lobera in the post-match press conference.  

He added, “I think the environment today in the stadium was amazing. And they deserve to be in the semi-finals. And we are going to fight till the end to get something important for this club, hopefully the ISL Cup trophy.”

Lobera's decision to introduce Diego Mauricio from the bench in the 81st minute proved to be inspired, as the Brazilian striker wasted no time in making an impact. Within just six minutes of his entry into the match, Mauricio found the back of the net, scoring his 11th goal of the season.

Lobera provided insights into his strategic use of Mauricio as a super sub, highlighting the forward's ability to make an immediate impact and change the dynamics of the game with his attacking prowess and goal-scoring instincts.

He opined, “Before you start the game, you are trying to think about some different plans no? One of my plans was this, if the situation is the worst situation, losing the game, then we need to take risks. And finally, although it's about the coach, the merit is from the players coming from the bench. They did an amazing job in terms of the decisions.”

“Also, I was conditioned because it's a little bit of a miracle that Diego is playing today because he got an injury four days ago and the first report said 'he will be out for 15 days'. The medical staff, fitness coach, and the player did an amazing job at the end, that he could play and score one goal,” continued Lobera.

Lobera's decision to bring on Thoiba Singh in the 81st minute also proved to be a wise move, offering the youngster valuable minutes in a crucial match. Despite limited playing time this season, Thoiba Singh showcased his potential by making a notable impact on the game.

With just 257 minutes of ISL action under his belt this season, the 21-year-old displayed commendable performance statistics, including an 85% passing accuracy, winning 15 duels, making two blocks, and 10 clearances, while also contributing to his team's clean sheet record.

Lobera expressed satisfaction with Thoiba Singh's contribution to the match, highlighting the young player's ability to make a positive impact despite his limited playing time.

He shared, “I am very happy with the performance of the players in the lineup in the first 11. And I am very happy with the players coming from the bench. Some of them deserve this. Leave this moment, players, like Thoiba (Singh), for example, not getting chances, not getting minutes, and to have the opportunity to play today and to give us, something, I think it is a good example that the players are working very well and they are ready for the challenge when the team needs them.”

Lobera wrapped up the press conference by extending his heartfelt gratitude to the fans who came out to support the home team, acknowledging their crucial role in motivating the players.

“It was just amazing. The atmosphere, the environment, was just amazing. I think we need them (Odisha FC fans). If Kalinga Stadium, the building, the stadium, is a fortress, it is because the people are pushing us and giving us what we need in the most difficult moments and in the most difficult situations. So I think I can tell nothing more than big thanks to the supporters, to the people coming to the stadium to support us,” he signed off.

Looking ahead, Lobera's squad will square off against Mohun Bagan Super Giant in pivotal encounters on April 23 and April 28. The first leg will take place at home, while the second leg will be an away fixture. These matches will determine which team secures a spot as the first finalist of the ISL 2023-24 season.

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