Fatorda: The Indian Super League will have a new winner after Kerala Blasters face a resurgent Hyderabad FC in the final on Sunday.
Though it would be Hyderabad’s first final, Kerala Blasters will compete in the final for the third time.
Kerala Blasters had made it to the finals in 2014 and 2016, but on both occasions had lost to former ATK, so their dream of winning the coveted ISL Trophy went unfulfilled.
Hyderabad FC qualified after a 3-2 win over ATK Mohun Bagan despite losing the second leg of the semi-finals 0-1. Hyderabad had won the first leg 3-1 with goals from Bartholomew Ogbeche, Yasir Mohammad and Javier Siverio.
On the other hand, Kerala Blasters FC entered the ISL final for the first time since 2016 after a 1-1 draw with Jamshedpur FC and a 2-1 lead over the League Shield winners in the semi-finals of the double leg. In the first leg, Sahal Abdul Samad scored the only goal in a 1-0 win for Kerala.
For Hyderabad, a lot would depend on how their star striker Bartholomew Ogbeche fares against the Kerala defences.
The 37-year-old Nigerian forward, who is the season’s top goalscorer with 18 goals from 19 matches, and the highest goalscorer in ISL history with 53 goals.
However, Ogbeche needs support from other strikers Javier Siverio, who has scored seven times this season, and Joel Chianese (4 goals).
The role of midfielder Joao Victor, the captain, who has scored five goals, would also be crucial.
Victor could serve as an important link between strikers and defense and with his prowess he could turn the game upside down.
Hyderabad also boasts a range of good midfielders including Aniket Jadhav, veteran Halicharan Narzary, Souvik Chakrabarti and they will have to play to perfection.
Hyderabad custodian Laxmikant Kattimani would aim for a clean slate.
Hyderabad have also scored 46 goals this season, the highest for any team, 10 more than their opponents Kerala Blasters and so if they go into the final they could have a slight upper hand.
Meanwhile, their top scorer for Kerala this season is their star striker Jorge Pereyra Diaz (8 goals). And for them, the 31-year-old Argentinian will have to be at his best, firing on all cylinders.
Diaz and Alvaro Vazquez also make a deadly pair and the defense of Hyderabad would indeed be different from them.
In what comes as a big blow, Kerala is sure to miss the services of midfielder Sahal Abdul Samad due to a thigh injury.
Much will depend on the midfield duo of Lalthathanga Khawlhring and Ayush Adhikari, ably supported by Marko Leskovic and defending partner Hormipam Ruivah, fresh off a call-up to the national team.
This would also be the first time since the COVID-19 outbreak, fans would be in the stands cheering on favorite teams and a 100 percent crowd is allowed, so a sea of yellow is expected to pop up at the location.
Indian football legend IM Vijayan, head coach Igor Stimac would also be present at the summit duel.
The match starts at 7.30pm IST.
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