KOCHI: Kerala Blasters head coach Rene Meulensteen has downplayed suggestions that his side will be out to seek revenge against defending champions ATK in the opening match of the Indian Super League (ISL) at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi on Friday.
Kerala Blasters fell short 4-3 on penalties against the same opponents at the very same venue in previous season’s championship clash but a year later as the two teams square up again, the new Kerala boss does not want to look at what happened last season.
“I think in football it’s not about revenge. They won last season and we can do nothing about that. If we win tomorrow against ATK, we will not win last season’s final. It’s already over. This is not a revenge match; it’s a new season,” the Dutch tactician said on the eve of the clash.
Meulensteen is new to the Indian Super League and takes over from British coach Steve Coppell who led the Yellow Brigade to the final after finishing second in the league stage. Meulensteen, however, is looking forward to his introduction to the ISL, although he has been left in no doubt that it will be a tough encounter.
“Of course, this is my first match in the ISL and I am happy about that. We had a good pre-season in Spain and now in Kochi. I think we are ready. I have confidence in my players. To start against the champions is also difficult. They are a strong team and it will be a tough match but like I said before, I have absolute confidence in my team,” added Meulensteen.
ATK’s hallmark all through the ISL has been it’s continuity with foreign recruits but this time around the Sourav Ganguly co-owned franchise haven’t retained any of their foreign players from the previous season.
While ATK lost ISL’s all-time leading goalscorer Iain Hume and South African winger Sameehg Doutie to Kerala Blasters and Jamshedpur FC respectively, Borja Fernandez, Helder Postiga, Ofentse Nato, Javi Lara, Tiri and Stephen Pearson are some other major foreign absentees.
How much of this will impact ATK’s title defense remains to be seen but coach Teddy Sheringham and Technical Director Ashley Westwood has tried their best to put together a decent squad, loaded with players who have proved themselves in Indian football.
However, the absence of key players like Robbie Keane, Carl Baker, Ashutosh Mehta and Jayesh Rane due to injury could unnerve ATK at the start but with Portuguese front-man Zequinha and Finland international Njazi Kuqi along with seasoned Indian campaigners such as Debjit Majumder, Robin Singh, Prabir Das, Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Anwar Ali in their ranks, the visitors should be able to measure up to their opening match challenge.