Lobera, Habas at the forefront of 2020-21 Hero ISL final battle

As we approach the final of Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2020-21, the excitement and tension for both sets of players and fans will only intensify before Saturday’s grand finale between Mumbai City FC and ATK Mohun Bagan at the Fatorda Stadium. It will be a clash of footballing styles and a first-ever Hero ISL final appearance for both teams although it’s worth pointing out that many of the players from either camp have played in a final in India’s premier football division before.

The likes of Mourtada Fall, Ahmed Jahouh, Mandar Rao Dessai and Hugo Boumous have endured the pain of a ‘final’ heartbreak in the Hero ISL just like their head coach Sergio Lobera. It was, in fact, Lobera that led these players to the final in Hero ISL 2018-19, which they lost after an extra time goal by Bengaluru FC’s Rahul Bheke.

Any loss is difficult to process for players as well as the coaches and even more so when the stakes are as high as a final. Memories of that defeat is certain to stroke the fire in the bellies of some of Mumbai City FC’s most influential players and Lobera will be hoping that it can serve as a motivation for his team as he looks to add another feather to his cap.

After guiding Mumbai City FC to the League Winners Shield in his debut season with the club, Lobera will have his eyes on the one trophy that’s eluded him during his time in India. Prior to lifting the League Winners Shield, the Spaniard had already enjoyed other successes like winning the Hero Super Cup with FC Goa. However, despite making it to the final once and getting his teams to play an entertaining brand of football every season, the Hero ISL trophy has eluded Lobera so far.

He will have a chance to change that come Saturday, of course, but that is by no means a given. Standing in his way will be a man and a team with players that have great pedigree of playing in finals. ATK Mohun Bagan’s Antonio Lopez Habas is Hero ISL’s most successful head coach after all. Unlike Lobera, Habas has never lost a Hero ISL final, winning on both occasions when he guided his team to the last match of the season.

His triumph in the final last season as head coach of ATK FC only enhanced his reputation that he has a knack of finishing the job somehow. The Spaniard will be hoping for his third Hero ISL success and certainly has the players with know-how of winning the title. The likes of Roy Krishna, David Williams, Pritam Kotal, Tiri and goalkeeper Arindam Bhattacharja are a few names, who like their head coach Habas, have won the Hero ISL title.

They know how to get the job done and won’t be overawed by the occasion having experienced both playing and winning the final. The same cannot be said about most of Mumbai City FC’s players and it remains to be seen how they and Lobera handle the pressure that comes with a such a big occasion.

Granted that the Islanders can argue that they have already beaten ATK Mohun Bagan twice in the league stage to pip them to the League Winners Shield but Lobera’s men will do well to remember that a final is a very different game. Even though Lobera enjoys a superior 3-1 head-to-head over Habas, the Mariners have shown this season that on their day, they can turn over any outfit and you can rest assured that ATK Mohun Bagan will be itching to make things right after two defeats to Mumbai City FC.

Habas has been here before and he’ll remind his troops that they are no lesser than the Islanders having secured just as many points (40) as them over the course of the league stage. In Lobera though Habas has a worthy adversary to contend with on the sidelines. That said, the 63-year-old has seen it all over the course of his coaching career and will want to extend his flamboyant young counterpart’s wait for a maiden Hero ISL trophy by a year, at the very least.

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