Kerala Blasters' shocking early exit does not tell us the whole story | Kalinga Super Cup 2024

Kerala Blasters crashed out of the Super Cup after being defeated by Jamshedpur FC.
Kerala Blasters crashed out of the Super Cup after being defeated by Jamshedpur FC.

Where exactly did things go wrong for Kerala Blasters FC in the Kalinga Super Cup? The leaders of the Indian Super League (ISL) table entered into the fray with high hopes, and were keen on recreating their form.

However, things went as bad as they could have gone for the Tuskers, and they ended up being among the first teams to get knocked out of the tournament.

On Saturday, they will face NorthEast United FC at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar in a clash that could have been high-octane had the scripts been written differently by the footballing Gods.

Both teams have been knocked out of the competition, and their pathways have not been much different. Both of them were beaten by challengers Jamshedpur FC and emerged victorious over I-League side Shillong Lajong.

However, the Red Miners' superior goal difference over their opponents allowed them to qualify directly for the semifinals, making Saturday night's clash virtually a dead rubber.

Although NorthEast have gone through a rough patch in the ISL as well, it was the performance of the Blasters that shocked their legion of supporters.

Head coach Ivan Vukomanovic must have expected his side to sail comfortably through the group phase but new head coach Khalid Jamil of Jamshedpur FC stepped in and said that he had other plans.

Kerala Blasters were knocked out of the Kalinga Super Cup in the group stage

Dimitri Diamantakos scored two goals from the penalty spot against Jamshedpur FC.
Dimitri Diamantakos scored two goals from the penalty spot against Jamshedpur FC.

Jamil has led a revival for Jamshedpur FC after the sacking of Scott Cooper ahead of this tournament, and one has only words of praise for the 46-year-old.

The Blasters made the mistake of taking the Red Miners lightly when they met them on Monday, and paid a big price for that.

Dimitrios Diamantakos scored twice from the penalty spot but Daniel Chima Chukwu replied with a brace of his own. Jeremy Manzorro too converted a goal from the spot for Jamshedpur to make sure that the Red Miners were going through to the semifinals.

Vukomanovic made the mistake of keeping the likes of Bryce Miranda and Bidhyashagar Singh on the bench for far too long, but one can also contest that the Tuskers played with the best first eleven that they had available.

Rightly so, this question needs to be asked: was the performance in the Super Cup an aberration or have the Blasters lost momentum going into the second phase of the ISL?

Kerala Blasters do not have any trophies in their cabinet

Head coach Ivan Vukomanovic has not lost his touch.
Head coach Ivan Vukomanovic has not lost his touch.

The supporters of the club, long deprived of any real silverware in their cabinet, would want nothing better than for the Blasters to aim for and win the ISL Shield this season and push for the trophy in the playoffs as well.

However, it is easier said than done, given that the fixtures are going to be taxing on the Blasters in the second phase of the league. They will need a fully fit squad of players to challenge for top honours.

Vukomanovic has not lost his touch- that is for sure; and although the game against NorthEast on Saturday is a dead rubber, it will work wonders for the confidence of both the players and supporters of the club to get three points.

NorthEast are not going to be easy to break down for the Blasters, and they know it well enough by now. In the 20 recorded games that the two teams that the two teams have played between themselves by now, the Blasters have won nine and the Highlanders four.

There have been a total of seven drawn encounters between the two, and that speaks highly of how tightly-knit the defences of both teams have been.

Vukomanovic need not be too disappointed with the early exit from the Super Cup, although he did miss out on the services of Pritam Kotal, Rahul Kannoly Praveen and Ishan Pandita, all of whom have been selected in the Indian national team for the ongoing AFC Asian Cup.

Some defensive errors need to be rectified, and Vukomanovic will have an eye on them. Winning midfield battles decides the crux of how a team performs in crucial fixtures, and that is where the Tuskers came second against Jamshedpur.

On Saturday, one can expect them to be switched on, for Vukomanovic will not have let any player rest easy after such an embarrassing exit.

In quite contrasting fashion, this exit might also give the Tuskers more time to prepare and focus for their assault on the ISL Shield. The glass is always half-full. Especially if you come from Kochi.

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Edited by Samya Majumdar
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