Kerala Blasters FC head coach Ivan Vukomanovic feels that their next game is an important one alike every other game this season and wants his players to go on the pitch with a fully focused mindset, as his side faces FC Goa in their final league match of the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2021-22 season at the Athletic Stadium in Panaji, Goa, on Sunday evening.

While a point gives a guaranteed semi-final spot for Kerala Blasters FC irrespective of the result of Hyderabad FC vs Mumbai City FC match on Saturday night, Vukomanovic has urged his players to not get ahead of themselves and warned them about the threat that FC Goa poses.

Ahead of their match-up against FC Goa, the Blasters’ head coach addressed the media during the official pre-match press conference.

Here are the excerpts from the coach’s press conference:

Last time Kerala Blasters FC faced FC Goa, we dropped points even after a two-goal lead. What will be your approach to the game?

If we compare the first part of the season where we faced FC Goa to now, we are currently in a completely different momentum, both teams in fact. We have to fight for our points and the approach will be quite the same, to go with a full squad, to try and achieve those points.

You have broken quite a few records of Kerala Blasters FC like most points, most wins, etc. Another one to break is finishing the league with a positive goal difference. How do you judge your first season at Kerala Blasters FC?

I’m really happy, I’m happy to have chosen this adventure. Since we all started cooperating and working together, we are on the right path. And from our side and technical stuff, we can see many improvements in every possible aspect. But this is just the beginning, in one football process, it needs time.

Especially, if you speak about ISL in the short term, I see that many people here in India would like to see miracles happen overnight or over one month, in football that’s impossible. It's quite impossible because if you want to be consistent, if you want to create and have big results and big achievements, of course, you need time to build up all those things. So later on, we’ll see about the consistency about continuing working together.

The more we stay together, the longer we stay together, the results will be better. In professional sports, when you have that kind of process and organisation, of course at the end, it gives you good results.

We all know the importance of Sunday’s game with respect to the past seasons that Kerala Blasters FC have had. So, is there pressure building up on the players and the coach?

I always prefer to talk about things that we can control and then we can master ourselves. You know, if you speak about tonight's game of our direct rivalry for the fourth spot, we cannot control those things. We have to be careful and organised for Sunday’s game. Every game we’ve played has been an important one.

For every point we achieved this season, we had to fight for it really hard and I think that on Sunday, it will be no different. So, we'll have to fight for our points, will have to fight for our spot because nobody will give us anything, nobody will offer us anything. No preparation, no training routine will change, and there will be no difference for us, we only need to have a fully focused mindset when we go onto the pitch to achieve the points that we want.

How has Harmanjot Khabra’s suspension affected your plans? And what are your thoughts regarding it?

We were not expecting a suspension after that game. But you know, there's a decision that the football federation takes and of course we as a club, we respect those decisions. I’m incredibly happy as a coach that when we miss one player due to an injury or suspension or for any other reason, we have players who can replace them and do the same tasks.

We have many players who can play in different positions. Sahal [Samad] can play on either flank, Nishu Kumar can play as a full-back, as a winger. There are many players who can perform in different positions. As a coach, that makes me happy. So, we organised the build-up of our team for this season, so that if we miss someone, then there will be somebody else who will replace the other.

As a coaching staff, we are happy because it means that we are in a good process, and the boys understand their task and they are not worried, we are not worried to let them play those games. So, whoever is on the pitch, we are confident in our boys that they know their job.

What is your reflection on the growth and development of the young Indian players this season?

The most important fact in all these things is the relationship and mutual respect that we create among ourselves. And then, with the right tasks, with the right training sessions and communications, we can achieve several things. From my personal experience as a former footballer, I’d like to say one thing, that every footballer during his career gets that moment where he has that click in his head and that can happen during a season. It can happen together, cooperating with one coaching staff.

And that’s the part where the player understands many important things in a career and starts developing and improving in all aspects and it happens to all players. Some players have that moment when they are younger, you know, at 18, 19, or at 20, it doesn't matter, some players have it later when they are 25, one time they will get it, if it will be on time, sooner or later.

But all the players get it at one moment and then it depends if they are fit enough, if they are ready enough, if they are serious enough to perform at a higher level to continue their game. So, our goal was to recognize the strong and weak points of our team, to recognize especially the strong points and the players who can improve, you know, and then it's about hard work.

Would FC Goa, being down at the bottom half of the table, be an easier opponent to play against?

Certainly it will not be an easier game for us. I’m 100% sure Goa will come out with the strongest squad. Of course, everybody wants to finish the competition with a victory. I think that FC Goa is one of the best football teams in the ISL and are a very tough opponent. It is difficult to play against them and on Sunday we expect nothing but a tough game. With the team and squad that they have, FC Goa deserves to be higher up the table.