After a horrendous start to the season that got them only one point in their first three games, Kerala Blasters are in the semifinals. A late season revival, sparked by the arrival of CK Vineeth has ensured that Steve Coppell’s men find themselves playing the Delhi Dynamos over two legs for a chance to play the final at home in front of their adoring fans at Kochi.
Kerala finished second in the group stages and that should have had them playing the second leg at home, but for whatever reason, they will play the first match in Kochi before heading to the capital, where they will hope to take a sizeable lead.
Interestingly, the Blasters are the only team in the semifinals, who had a negative goal difference in the league stage – although that was hugely hampered by their 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Mumbai City FC.
But in the semifinal, as Diego Forlan said, it is like a different tournament and the position on the table hardly matters. All four teams start on level footing, and all it will take is three good days for any side to be crowned champions.
Here we take a look at the reasons why Kerala will win the tournament.
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Kerala have lost only one of their last six games, winning four in the process. Delhi meanwhile have won only two of their last six games, both against the two sides at the bottom of the table – Chennaiyin FC and FC Goa. That is a concern for Gianluca Zambrotta heading into the first leg against a Blasters side full of confidence.
All facets of Kerala’s game seem to have clicked in unison towards the business end of the tournament. Graham Stack has used all his experience between the sticks and along with Aaron Hughes and Cedric Hengbart, he has formed the bedrock of this Kerala side.
Although Kerala did score the least number of goals by any team this season, they found a way to win games. Their big players have stepped up and it has helped Coppell that he has not gone by reputation in picking his lineups.
Pratik Chowdhary had a fabulous run in the side before Rino Anto arrived after his AFC Cup exploits with Bengaluru FC. Coppell must have been tempted to start the local Kerala boy, but he has kept faith with Pratik and the Englishman has been repaid.
Similarly, Michael Chopra and Antonio German have fired blanks for most of this season and Coppell has been rather rigid with not putting them in the starting eleven. The Haitians, Duckens Nazon and Kervens Belfort have done really well for Kerala and there is no reason Coppell had to change that combination.
Coppell has used all his experience and that has ensured Kerala’s amazing recovery to finish second on the table.