ISL 2021-22: Hyderabad, Kerala lock horns in final in front of a crowd (preview)

Fatorda (Goa), March 19 (IANS) Hyderabad FC and Kerala Blasters FC donning similar yellow colours, will look to claim the 2021-22 Indian Super League (ISL) trophy, when the two teams lock horns in the final at the PJN Stadium, here on Sunday.

It has been a season to remember for both Hyderabad and Kerala, reaching the summit of the 2021-22 ISL season on the back of some scintillating performances. Hyderabad finished second in the table with 38 points while Kerala were fourth having 34 in their kitty.

On Sunday, both outfits will get an opportunity to showcase their might in front of a packed house with fans allowed back in the stands after a gap of two years.

“We are very happy to be here. It was a hard season. It was challenging mentally to be in a bio-bubble for five months. Our strength is the group we have, players and staff. We all work towards the same direction,” said Hyderabad head coach Manolo Marquez, on the eve of the mega clash.

“We were very close last season (to qualifying for the semi-finals), this time we finished second in the table. It’s only one game and anything can happen tomorrow. We know we have a hard opponent but I am sure they think the same about us as well,” he added.

Hyderabad missed the semis bus by a whisker last season under Marquez, finishing fifth.

“We prepare all season for this. Every team wants to be in the final. We have to be ready and we are ready,” said Hyderabad skipper Joao Victor.

In the semi-finals, Hyderabad beat ATK Mohun Bagan 3-2 on aggregate over two legs, winning the first game 3-1 to then lose 0-1 in the second match. Meanwhile, Kerala edged past League Shield winners Jamshedpur 2-1 on aggregate, winning the first encounter 1-0 to then hold the Men of Steel to a 1-1 draw.

Like Hyderabad, Bartholomew Ogbeche has had a stellar season too, scoring a record 18 goals in 19 games and sitting pretty at the top of the goalscoring charts in the competition with 53 strikes to his name.

For Kerala, they will probably have the biggest 12th man for the final in the form of their fans who brought the roof down when the yellow army reached their third final beating Jamshedpur.

“We came back with strength this season. We are grateful for that. We are so pleased with what we have achieved so far. We hope for the best,” said Kerala head coach Ivan Vukomanovic.

“We play football for the fans. I think in the last couple of months playing without fans was weird. Now it is extra motivation for all the players. As a boy, you dream of playing in front of your local fans,” he said about the fans.

Hyderabad and Kerala have faced each other six times so far in the ISL, each winning thrice with no draws to show for. Adrian Luna is Kerala’s answer to Ogbeche with the Spaniard being a key figure in their journey so far.

Although the likes of Alvaro Vazquez, Marko Leskovic and Jorge Diaz have played important parts too, Luna has been simply outstanding for Kerala scoring six goals and being involved in 13 goal contributions, only Ogbeche being more involved than Luna in this regard.