ISL 2017: Team that keeps their players fit are the favourites, says Pune City coach Ranko Popovic
After starting their campaign with a loss at home, FC Pune City head coach Ranko Popovic believes the onus is on his team to come back fighting stronger, starting from Sunday's match.
"We will do everything to try and get 3 points. We know it wont be easy, but it will be very good for the team to have a good game tomorrow. We will try and do everything to get my best team out," said the coach.
Pune were defeated in the last match against Delhi Dynamos by 3-2, as the capital side scored three goals in a span of about 20 minutes that rattled the Stallions. The Pune outfit tried mounting a comeback with late goals from Emiliano Alfaro and Marcos Tebar but the effort proved a little too late.
"The mistakes were individual and not tactical. These things happen. We don't like to point a finger at someone. I am responsible for the guys. We want to lose and win like a team," said the coach.
He further stressed how injuries could decide the league this time around as the fitter squad has the better chances in the long run.
"In Europe, it's different as they get to play many more games. Here before pre-season, Indian players are on a break for six months. So they are more injury prone. If a team can keep 10, 12, 14, 15 players injury-free for a considerable time during the season, that team will be the favourite, and will have the best chances to win the league," he said.
Pune were handed a setback pretty early in the match as they had to substitute Jewel Raja in the opening minute with almost the entire game left to play, as he pulled out with a groin injury.
Speaking about the midfielder's woes Popovic said, "It was a bad moment for us. It's the worst when you prepare a team and you have made your best team and have a guy who can play more than one position and he gets injured in the first minute."
Popovic, who is wary of the threat tomorrow's opponents and reigning champions ATK posse, refuses to call them favourites right now
"You can always call them favourites. But I think at this moment of the season, nobody is clear favourites. It's easy to declare them favourites, but I don't want my team to think like that. Tomorrow is the match and the moment of truth will be on the pitch. I hope to make the job more difficult for Kolkata and easier for us. We must learn from our mistakes and better them as the games come. I hope tomorrow will be different," said the Stallions coach.
Pune have plenty of players, both Indian and foreign, who have previous ISL experience and Popovic admitted to talking to them for advice and help at times. "I try and get feedback from players. Especially those who have previous experience here," he said.
Popovic will be hoping his side can do their best as they face ATK tomorrow with the reigning champions playing their first match at home in front of an expected 50,000-strong crowd, with the emphasis falling more on his strikers and their conversion rate from opportunities presented to them.