The first day of the Super Cup 2019 qualifiers (March 15) has two intriguing matches in store. In the first contest, Indian Super League side FC Pune City are scheduled to go up against I-League 2017/18 champions Minerva Punjab FC. The second match will pit Kerala Blasters FC against a young Indian Arrows outfit. The Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, will be the venue for the tournament.
Bengaluru FC are the defending champions and will be involved from the Round of 16 stage. The final round involving 16 teams (top six sides from ISL 2018-19, top six sides from I-League 2018-19 and the four teams who make it through from the qualifiers), will commence from March 29.
A day prior to the matches, head coaches and players from the FC Pune City, Kerala Blasters and Indian Arrows camps shared their thoughts on the match. Here’s a brief overview of the two matches and what each party had to say.
QUALIFIER 1: FC PUNE CITY VS MINERVA PUNJAB FC
After reaching the semifinal stages of the Hero ISL last season, the Stallions have faltered this season, finishing seventh in the league phase and narrowly missed out on automatic qualification for the Super Cup. However, most of FC Pune City’s problems stemmed from their poor start to the season. Post the winter break, Pune have looked like a reinvigorated side under new head coach Phil Brown. The Englishman’s arrival transformed the side as they went on to win three, draw two and lose just once in his six matches in charge. Come Friday, the Stallions will be eager to ensure their progression to the main stage of the tournament and showcase their renewed vigour in the knockout competition.
At the pre-match press conference, FC Pune City head coach Phil Brown talked about the change of perspective needed to switch from playing in a league format to a knockout tournament. “Going from league format to knockout is always a different kind of approach. We understand what the game brings. I spoke to all the players individually and collectively yesterday. I said to every player that if you’re not interested in winning Hero Super Cup, then leave. Every player has stuck by me and Pune City and we will show that tomorrow,” he said.
Stallions’ midfielder Adil Khan, who accompanied Brown at the briefing, echoed the gaffer’s sentiments and quoted, “When we play ISL, its always different. In ISL, (if we lose) we always have another opportunity to come back in the other game. But here, in a knockout format, its like one game. We have to take a game at a time. So, we have to give 100% and try to win the match and go ahead.”
“We came back from the short break Hero ISL. We prepared well for the Hero Super Cup and we are looking forward to having a great tournament,” Adil added.
After their I-League winning campaign in 2017-18, Minerva Punjab FC has failed to replicate their stunning form this season, dropping down the league table sharply. But the squad has evolved considerably in the latter stages of the campaign, with new players brought in to bolster the team. The Chandigarh-based club will be looking for a good showing in the Super Cup to salvage some pride from the season.
The match is scheduled to kick off at 5pm but one isn’t sure if it would be played or not.
QUALIFIER 2: KERALA BLASTERS FC VS INDIAN ARROWS
Kerala Blasters come into the tournament on the back of a very disappointing ISL campaign, which saw them finish ninth in the league table. With the Super Cup slated to be their chance for redemption to bring the fans some joy, head coach Nelo Vingada and the boys will be eager to progress to the main stages of the competition by winning their qualifier on Friday.
At the pre-match press conference, Vingada gave an insight into his team’s preparations. “Our preparation didn’t change too much because at the professional level, we train every day to face the next game. The next game for me is the most important and the most difficult. All the games we played before in the ISL are behind us. The future of the coaches in football is always the next game. After the Hero ISL finished, I gave a short break for the players because since I arrived, we had been working hard for many consecutive days. So, we had a short break and after that, we started our preparation to face the next the opponent. For me to be honest, I don’t look too much for our team. We are always respecting the next game,” he said.
The Portuguese, who took over the reins from David James in January, also stated that the team is taking nothing for granted against a young Arrows side. “When the game starts, the result is 0-0. If we are playing against any team thinking that we are better because we are in a different league, the game will be hard and difficult. We need our players with high concentration. We have our strategy. We have our own concept. I believe now, the players are understanding my idea better. We have a good idea of what we can do. Tomorrow will be a hard game because the young boys have very good quality,” he opined
Kerala Blasters striker Matej Poplatnik continued on the same note and said, “Our preparation for the Super Cup is similar to the one for ISL. We would like to save our season in this Super Cup. It is a great opportunity to do this. I’m serious, my team is serious. We want to take this opportunity very well. We prepared very well.”
Indian Arrows, a development initiative by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) with the goal of nurturing young talents, consists of up and coming youngsters from across the country and is a part of the Hero I-League. Helmed by head coach Floyd Pinto, the young squad had some flashes of brilliance this season and will be looking to impress the nation yet again in the Super Cup. The Indian Arrows ended their I-League season on a high and are unbeaten in their previous three outings. In their last match, the youngsters created quite a stir besting Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan 3-1 at the Saltlake Stadium. Pinto and Co. will take the confidence into Friday’s match, aiming for a good result.
Pinto, at the pre-match press conference, illustrated his intentions to give no quarter and said, “Throughout the season the boys have proved themselves, more importantly, the boys have evolved throughout the entire season. As the season has gone on, we’ve hit a very good purple patch in form, in results, in points, in the way that we are playing. We couldn’t have been in a better position going into a knockout game like the Super Cup. We are not in the tournament to make up the numbers. We are in the tournament to compete. We are in this tournament to win every game we play, give a tough game to every team that we come up against. The first team is Kerala Blasters.”
Team captain Amarjit Singh Kiyam, who was also the skipper of the Indian team for the FIFA U-17 World Cup back in 2017, also commented on what a stage like the Super Cup means for the young players. “All players have performed well, and the results have been during the season. We have a great opportunity to take on experienced Hero ISL teams. We can show our talents. Tomorrow will be an interesting match and we will play for a result,” he said.