Odisha FC head coach Sergio Lobera shared his excitement for the final phase of the league stage as they travel to face Bengaluru FC in the Indian Super League (ISL) at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru in the first match on Saturday.

The ISL returns on Saturday after the international break with Matchweek 20 approaching. Odisha FC will play two fixtures in the Matchweek, where they face Bengaluru FC away before taking on Punjab FC at home.

The Kalinga Warriors are still in contention for the League Shield having secured 35 points in 18 matches, six points behind league leaders Mumbai City FC with a game in hand. Lobera’s men will take the field after a long break since their last ISL match, where their four-month-long unbeaten streak in the league was shattered by Chennaiyin FC.  

In the AFC Cup Inter-Zonal Play-off Semi-final which took place in March, Odisha FC succumbed to Australian side Central Coast Mariners, with an aggregate scoreline of 4-0. Bringing his focus back to the ISL 2023-24 season, the Odisha FC head coach is glad to have had a break to help his players recover mentally and physically. 

“It was good for us to have a little break because coming from the AFC Cup games, and also the ISL calendar, the schedule is really crazy for us and for the players it is very important to recover their physical conditions and also mental conditions to be ready for the last period and the most important period of the season,” stated Lobera in the pre-match press conference. 

He added, “It's a big challenge. We are very excited after the break to come back to the competition (ISL).”

Odisha FC midfielder Isak Vanlalruatfela and defender Amey Ranawade received their first call-ups to represent the under-23 national team and senior national team, respectively, during the international break. Custodian Amrinder Singh was also called up for the senior national team withThoiba Singh donning the under-23 jersey and finding his name on the scoresheet in India's second friendly match against Malaysia, helping his team to a 1-1 draw. Meanwhile, defender Narender Gahlot captained the under-23 Indian national team during their campaign in Malaysia. 

The Spanish tactician shared his thoughts on seeing so many of his players representing their nation on different levels. 

He said, “I am very happy for them. They deserved to go to the national team, senior national team, under 23 national team. They are doing an amazing job and I think it is good for them. It's good for the club also.”

Odisha FC and Bengaluru FC have met twice already this season with Odisha FC securing a remarkable comeback win at home in the reverse league fixture. The Kalinga Warriors beat the Blues in the group stages of the Kalinga Super Cup as well. 

Despite the past result, Lobera considers Bengaluru FC as a serious challenge, especially at their home stadium. 

He stated, “I think it is not helpful for us to compare the previous games with tomorrow's game (on Saturday). We know it's very difficult to play. I know as a coach it's very difficult to play against Bengaluru FC in their stadium. They are a very strong team. They're like us in our stadium and it will not be an easy game tomorrow.” 

“They are fighting to get to the playoffs. We are fighting for everything till the end of the season and it will be like a final. I think every game, from now till the end of the season, is like a final for both teams,” he continued. 

On being asked about his insights looking at the current league table, he shared, “We need to continue to live in our dream. I think we are in an amazing position.”

“We need to continuously enjoy on the way. We know we are in the most important period of the season, but we are feeling very excited. We are not feeling pressured and we need to show everyone that we are ready for this challenge because I think we showed it before, this team is ready for big games and for big challenges. And we need to continue in the same way,” Lobera asserte. 

The Odisha FC women’s team has recently bagged themselves the Indian Women’s League (IWL) 2023-24 season silverware, sealing a place for themselves in the AFC Women’s Champions League. Lobera congratulated everyone involved in this project. 

“Well, it's amazing. I think it's an enormous achievement. I think there is a lot of work behind trying to get this achievement, and I am very happy. I want to take advantage of this press conference to congratulate everyone who is involved in this project because, it's amazing not only to win trophies, because finally, in media, and all the people speak when you are winning. But, there is a lot of work behind this,” he shared.

I will prove myself in the ISL as well: M Thoiba Singh 

Midfielder Thoiba Singh accompanied Lobera in the pre-match press conference. The youngster has featured in just five games for Odisha FC this season. Singh get the spotlight on himself during the international break, finding the equaliser for the India under-23 team in their second friendly game against Malaysia, which ended in a draw. 

On being asked about his experience and how far his international goal will work as a confident booster for the 21-year-old, Singh shared, “It's amazing. Scoring in the international levels and coming to the ISL, everything is the same. So I will try to push as much as I can and prove myself in the ISL as well.”

Addressing their fixture against Bengaluru FC, he added, “It will be a difficult game. They have a good team, but we also have a good team, so we just need to focus on our game plan. If we stick to our game plan, sure the game will be in our favour.”