Odisha FC head coach Josep Gombau stressed that their upcoming game will be a must-win one and wants his players to show hunger if they desire to be in the top six. His side take on NorthEast United FC in Matchweek 21 of the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 season at the Indira Gandhi Athletic stadium in Guwahati on Friday.

Level on 27 points with sixth-placed FC Goa, the Kalinga Warriors have work to do in their remaining two fixtures, needing all six points to be in the top six. Gombau highlighted the dedication put in by his side in the recent few matches and wanted them to keep the same momentum in their upcoming game.

“Very important game for us, two games remain to finish the season, (and) we are fighting to be in the playoffs. For us it's a must win game, we cannot miss, we want to keep our desires alive of being in the top six. It will be a difficult game for sure, against a team that, in my opinion, has improved a lot in the last few weeks. We know that we need to do our things very well. We want to get the result here. The team, players, coaching staff, and everyone else is working together to achieve this,” Gombau stated in the official pre-match press conference.

With the remaining fixtures against the last two teams in the league against NorthEast United FC and Jamshedpur FC respectively, Gombau warned his players to not take any of their opponents lightly. The Spaniard cautioned them of complacency during the most critical stage of the league.

“The league is equal, the results are not big. To give an example, we won 2-1 against NorthEast United FC at home and it was a difficult game. I don't think that we have a better chance. I think that every game is difficult when you arrive at this moment in the season. When you play for something, all the games are difficult. The good thing we have is that the top six depends on us, so we need to do our job well. I don't have this feeling that Friday’s game will be easy, and that is what we discussed with the players. For sure, if we want to win, we need to be very concentrated and do our things well,” he added.

The Juggernauts started the season strongly, winning six of their first ten games of the season. Contrastingly, in the next eight fixtures, the side picked up just two wins and recorded four losses and two draws. Commenting on their dip in form, Gombau stressed on the competitiveness in the league and highlighted how his side has shown intent in all their performances despite the results not going their way.

“The league is difficult, it’s not easy. You can see the amount of points that you need to be in the top six. There is a big difference between (top) two teams and the others are fighting for the top six, between three-four points, there are four-five teams involved. This shows that to get points is difficult. We started well but I don’t see we did anything wrong really, as I don’t see that we were very good in the very beginning. It's just football. The players’ commitment throughout the year has been very good in the way that we work in the training sessions, but sometimes you get the results, sometimes not,” he said. 

Addressing the side’s injury concerns, the 46-year-old provided an update on Osama Malik’s fitness and pointed out his side’s squad which will be of huge importance in their fight for the playoffs spot.

“Osama Malik has some niggles with his hamstring which we need to take care of, and the rest of the team is good. The good thing is that we have a good strength in our squad, we have a lot of players, we take this last part of the season using a lot of players, which is something very important. I am so happy with the team and everybody is available,ready, concentrated and is showing signs of hunger, which is the most important thing,” he added.

Odisha FC are renowned for their grooming of young talents and moulding them into promising first team players. Wingers Nandhakumar Sekar and Jerry Mawihmingthanga have been of immense significance in the side’s exploits, accounting for a total of eight goals this season. Having returned for a second stint with the club, the head coach commented on the noticeable improvement in the Indian players as compared to the seasons of yesteryear.

“You can see how the Indian players have made a big impact in the league. In the first years of the Hero ISL, you could see many mistakes and situations where the players were not competitive. Now, it is totally different, the competitiveness now in Indian players is normal. The players get used to playing these kinds of games, which also offers a lot of new talent that comes from academies. Year by year, football is growing, the kids are training better, they are being well taught and you can see it,” he concluded.