Odisha FC head coach Sergio Lobera effusively praised his players for their efforts and commitment despite a 2-0 defeat to Mohun Bagan Super Giant in the second-leg semi-final of the Indian Super League (ISL) at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata on Sunday.

With this defeat, the Kalinga Warriors saw their dream of reaching their first ISL final dashed at the hands of the Mariners. Odisha FC entered this game with a slender one-goal advantage from the first leg. However, a strong, resilient performance from the home side turned the fate of the semi-final in their favour with a 3-2 scoreline on aggregate. 

Trailing by a goal, Mohun Bagan SG started the game at the forefront, creating chances from both flanks to keep the Odisha FC defence busy from the opening minute. The Mariners got their opening goal on the night through Jason Cummings, who scored from the rebound after Amrinder Singh saved Dimitri Petratos's shot, and he made no mistake in slotting it into the net to level the tie at 2-2. 

Hector Yuste made a heroic effort to deny the visitors the equalizing goal just before the halftime break. Both teams had their chances in the second half, but just when everyone was expecting extra time, substitute Sahal Abdul Samad fired it home from a Manvir Singh cross to end the tie 3-2 in their favour.

Once again, the backing of the home support favoured the Mariners as they reached their second straight final. Lobera, when questioned about whether his players felt any pressure and his reaction to playing in front of such a huge crowd,

The backing of the home support once again favoured the Mariners as they reached their second straight final.

At the post-match press conference when Lobera was questioned about whether his players felt any pressure and his reaction to playing in front of such a huge crowd, he remarked, “I think it's amazing. When you are playing in a practically full stadium, it means you are playing for something important.”

“This is the kind of game you want to play as a coach and as a player because it's amazing to have this atmosphere. I don't think my team felt any pressure playing in this atmosphere, in this environment. I think they did an amazing job. We need to congratulate the opponent, Mohun Bagan Super Giant because they played a good game,” Lobera added.

Both teams had their fair share of chances, but the Mariners seemed to capitalize better on the opportunities presented. Mohun Bagan Super Giant created 14 chances to that of Odisha FC's 8.

Lobera believed his side performed better in the second half and deserved more from the final 45 minutes.

“But for me, in my opinion, the first half was for them. The second half was for us. We had our chance to score the goal. But finally, we conceded the goal in the last moment,” he said.

“As a coach, when you are coming back to the dressing room and you are thinking, what I can ask more from my players but the answer is nothing because they did everything. Finally, it's not about what you got or what you get. It's about what you deserve. And I think we deserved more in the second half,” the Spaniard shared further.

In his first season with the Kalinga Warriors, Lobera led Odisha FC to an impressive fourth-place finish in the league stage, marking back-to-back qualification to the ISL playoffs. Their season was nothing short of remarkable, marked by reaching the knockout stages of the AFC Cup on their first attempt and making it to the final of the Kalinga Super Cup. 

Despite falling short in the semi-final of the ISL playoffs, Lobera reflected on the overall season and expressed gratitude towards the players and supporters for their efforts and unwavering support. Lobera acknowledged the collective effort that contributed to their achievements.

I think only I can tell my players, 'Thank you so much, and congratulations for the season. It was an amazing season.' We know that when I signed up for this club, I knew it was going to be the biggest challenge in my career. But at the end of the season, looking back, I think the players did an amazing job,” he opined.

“Finishing top of the table in the AFC Cup against strong teams like Mohun Bagan Super Giant and Bashundhara Kings, and reaching the final in the Kalinga Super Cup. We were in one minute to reach another final. We lost the final in the last minute,” he added.

As a coach, only I can be proud of my players. I want to congratulate them in front of all the people. And the people who are behind us need to be proud of the entire team's fight, belief, and teamwork throughout the entire season,” Lobera signed off.