Hyderabad FC will be back in action after a long wait as they open their 2020-21 Indian Super League campaign against Odisha FC in an ‘away’ game at the GMC Stadium in Bambolim, on Monday. Manolo Marquez will take charge of his first-ever league game as Hyderabad’s Head Coach and will be up against Odisha FC’s Stuart Baxter, who will also be making his debut in the ISL.
The Monday-night battle sees an interesting match-up of teams with a focus on young Indian players. Both sides have named a total of 36 U23 players in their ISL squads for the season. However, apart from the youngsters, there’s been some key additions of experienced players on both sides.
The hosts, Odisha, have added former HFC players in Marcelinho and Kamaljit Singh while the likes of Cole Alexander, Steven Taylor and Manuel Onwu form a strong foreign contingent. Meanwhile Jerry Mawihmingthanga, Shubham Sarangi, Nandhakumar Sekhar and Vinit Rai are the key Indian players that Baxter will depend on.
“Odisha FC has a very good coach with a lot of experience. He has trained in a lot of countries, in different continents. He was in quarantine till 10 days ago and so it is not easy for him and the players,” said Manolo while assessing the opponent.
On the other hand, Hyderabad have also brought in a host of new players in the off-season. Key Indian national team players in Subrata Paul and Halicharan Narzary join Adil Khan and Nikhil Poojary at the club while a host of youngsters are also in line to play a key role this season. However, the big name for HFC will be Aridane Santana, who scored nine goals for Odisha last season and will be up against his former side for the first time on Monday.
The teams have been training in Goa for over a month now, and ahead of their first league game, both sides have tested themselves in friendly clashes against fellow ISL opposition. Hyderabad has played against Kerala Blasters, Bengaluru FC, FC Goa and NorthEast United while Odisha has played Chennaiyin FC and Mumbai City.
“Results in pre-season games are not that important, but what’s important is that players get to play at a good intensity and understand their teammates better. They (OFC) have only played two preseason friendly games. It is not easy to assess how their performance is or even how our performance will be on the day. It will be easier to know this when the teams play more games in the league.”
After a run of tough pre-season games with mixed results, the new look HFC side go into the game against Odisha FC without the services of two players, Dimple Bhagat and Fran Sandaza, who miss out due to injury. “It is a normal occurrence in all teams. This season, injuries could be a big problem but we have to play according to the conditions and we are confident about it,” the 52-year-old said, also referring to the early injury Michael Soosairaj suffered in the opening game of the ISL season.
With the entire season being played behind closed doors, Manolo believes that it will be tough for everyone, given how fans play a massive role in the sport. “Fans are the most important part of a club. If you play in an empty stadium, it is worse. We like to play in front of full stands. I think in such a situation, the home advantage is not that important. It’s a pity that there will be no people in the stands. But we will be playing with our heart and the fans should know that we will give it all during the entire season,” added Manolo.
The game kicks off at 7:30 pm on Monday, and will be telecasted live on the Star Sports Network with live streams on Disney+ Hotstar and JioTV.