Manolo Marquez – If we play a good game we can beat any team

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Hyderabad FC started the season steadily, but picked up the pace midway through the season and was at the helm of the points table for the majority of the season, before giving away their place to eventual League Winners’ Shield holders Jamshedpur FC. However, they managed to beat ATK Mohun Bagan in the two-legged semi-final to set up a title shot.

The Nizams come to the final after a 3-2 aggregate win against last season’s runners-up ATK Mohun Bagan. Getting in the final for the first time, Hyderabad FC have been a force to be reckoned with throughout the season

On the other hand, Kerala Blasters FC fought their way through Jamshedpur FC with a 2-1 aggregate win in the semi-final over the two legs. Playing in the final is nothing new for the Kochi-based side as they play their third-ever Hero ISL Final. The Blasters’ have been one of the most consistent sides in the league this season and secured their semi-final spot after Mumbai City FC lost their last league game against FC Goa.

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Hyderabad FC head coach Manolo Marquez and midfielder Joao Victor addressed the media during the pre-match press conference ahead of the ISL 2021-22 final against Kerala Blasters FC on Sunday at the Fatorda Stadium in Margoa, Goa. Below are his excerpts from the media interaction.

Manolo gave his assessment of the whole ISL 2021-22 campaign before playing in the final.

“I think that it was a hard season, especially in terms of mentality. But I think that we have a very good thing, which is our strength in the group, that we have, with the players, and with the staff and all are working in the same direction. I think that the club is growing step by step, season by season. We were very, very close last season. This season we finished second and we’ll always doubt what would have happened if we played the match against Jamshedpur FC with a full-strength squad.

“If we had won that game, we could have been the League Winners’ Shield holders. But okay, we know that every team had problems due to the COVID-19 situation. But, I am very very satisfied, the players are incredible and it felt good to train them. Now, there’s only one game left, anything can happen tomorrow. 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.”

“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.” 

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Manolo spoke on if he had expected Kerala Blasters FC to be in the final at the beginning of the season.

“No and Yes. Because the characteristic of the ISL 2021-22 is that every team can beat every team. There are (strong) teams that did not qualify for the finals. We knew that if we were not good with our performance, we could lose to any team. At the moments we were good, we knew that we could beat every team. It has been a season of ups and downs for Kerala Blasters FC. 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.” 

The fans will be back in the stadium after one year. Marquez shared his views on that.

“It’s fantastic. Football is for the fans because when you play without people in the stands, you can hear everything that is being spoken on the other bench, and when the stadium is full, maybe you cannot hear anything.  It is better, for the players, for the atmosphere, if you can play it in front of 18,000 or 20,000 people then it’s better than playing in an empty stadium”

Manolo spoke on the emphasis of wing play and crossing as a tactic in the final.

“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.”

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Midfielder Joao Victor was also present at the press conference and addressed the questions put forward by the media. Below are his excerpts from the media interaction.

Joao shared his assessment of the season.

“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.”

Victor spoke on how appealing it is for the players to play in front of spectators, having played the entire season in front of empty stands.

“We prepare all the season for this moment. Now, I don’t think there is any team that hasn’t thought of playing in the final when the season started.  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. So we prepare all our lives to be in a game like this, so we are ready. And of course, even for the experienced players like Bartholomew Ogbeche, Juanan, and even me, it is a really important game for us.”

There were phases of isolation during the season and sometimes teams had to play the matches straight from the hotel rooms. Joao spoke on how difficult life was inside the bubble.

“It’s hard to be inside a bubble, to be away from the family, it is really, really hard. Last year was hard. This year was harder because we had to stay inside for maybe 10 days for COVID that we didn’t have last year. This time, we have handled the situation better and we are now in the final.”

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