Hyderabad FC head coach Manuel Marquez heaped praise on his wards for a stellar Hero ISL 2021-22 season, overcoming the Covid-19 isolations and bio-bubble complications that often hampered their rhythm. They are set to play Kerala Blasters FC in the final of the ongoing tournament at the PJN Stadium in Margao, Goa on Sunday.

Having started steadily, the Hero ISL side picked up pace midway through the season and were at the helm of the points table for majority of the season, before giving away their place to eventual League Winners’ Shield holders Jamshedpur FC. However, they managed to beat ATK Mohun Bagan in the two-legged semi-final to set up a title shot.

Marquez attended the pre-match press conference ahead of the Hero ISL 2021-22 final.

Here are the excerpts from the press conference:

What is your assessment of the whole Hero ISL 2021-22 campaign before going into the final?

I think that it was a hard season, especially in terms of mentality. But I think that we have a very good thing, which is our strength in the group, that we have, with the players, and with the staff and all are working in the same direction.

I think that the club is growing step by step, season by season. We were very, very close last season. This season we finished second and we’ll always have the doubt of what would happen if we played the match against Jamshedpur FC with a full strength squad. If we had won that game, we could have been the League Winners’ Shield holders.

But okay, we know that every team had problems due to the Covid-19 situation. But, I am very very satisfied, the players are incredible and it felt good to train them. Now, there’s only one game left, anything can happen tomorrow.

Did you expect Kerala Blasters FC to be in the final when the season started?

No and Yes. Because, the characteristics of the Hero ISL 2021-22 is that every team can beat every team. There are (strong) teams which did not qualify for the finals.

We knew that if we were not good with our performance, we could lose to any team. At the moments we were good, we knew that we could beat every team. It has been a season of ups and downs for Kerala Blasters FC. They did not start well, but sometimes football is like this.

The fans will be back in the stadium after one year. What are your thoughts on that?

It's fantastic. Football is for the fans, because when you play without people in the stands, you can hear everything that is being spoken on the other bench. And when the stadium is full, maybe you cannot hear anything.  It is better, for the players, for the atmosphere, if you can play it in front of 18,000 or 20,000 people, it's better.

Hyderabad FC midfielder Joao Victor was also present at the press conference and addressed the questions put forward by the media.

Here are the excerpts from the players press conference:

From a player's perspective, how appealing is it for the players to play in front of spectators, having played the entire season in front of empty stands?

We prepare all the season for this moment. Now, I don't think there is any team that hasn't thought of playing in the final when the season started.

So we prepare all our lives to be in a game like this, so we are ready. And of course, even for the experienced players like Bartholomew Ogbeche, Juanan and even me, it is a really important game for us.

There were phases of isolation during the season and sometimes you had to play the matches straight from your hotel rooms. How tough was it to be inside the bubble?

It's hard to be inside a bubble, to be away from the family, it is really, really hard. Last year was hard. This year was harder, because we had to stay inside for maybe 10 days for COVID that we didn't have last year. This time, we have handled the situation better and we are now in the final.