Odisha FC head coach Josep Gombau feels both OFC and Hyderabad FC are on an equal footing and it will be a great contest when two sides face each other in Hero Indian Super League (ISL) at the GMC Balayogi Stadium, Hyderabad, on Saturday.

Both Hyderabad FC and Odisha FC are placed on the first and second spot respectively on the Hero ISL 2022-23 standings. While HFC have had an unbeaten start to the season with 10 points, the Kalinga Warriors are just one point behind them, having suffered a defeat just once.

Gombau was accompanied by midfielder Thoiba Moirangthem in the official pre-match press conference and the Odisha FC head coach said he is happy with how hard his team is working and said it can be seen in the results so far. The Spaniard also discussed his game plan against a tough opposition with strong players and he had belief that his side could would come on top against Hyderabad FC.

Here are the excerpts from Gombau’s press conference:

It is a tough game against a team that is at the top of the Hero ISL table. What are your initial thoughts?

It is going to be a nice game to play. They (Hyderabad FC) are a very good side that is still unbeaten this season, which is a challenge for us to try to go to Hyderabad and get all three points.

It will be a game where both teams will look to play characteristic football. We are a team that tends to keep the ball more, and play more directly, but they have been consistent and working together for the last three years.

You must be looking forward to the game, and it promises to be a good one. How do you mentally prepare for a challenge like this?

We are working really well together and working hard. We know what needs to be done with and without the ball. Since the first day of the week, we have been speaking about how the mentality should be when we face an opponent of such caliber on Saturday.

We will try to be fearless when we face Hyderabad FC. It is a good challenge for us to prove ourselves, and we want to go a step forward in this league.

It has just been four games into the season. But what are the differences you can see between last season and this season?

There are a lot of differences. The league has grown since I was here three years ago, and in two years' time, a lot of things have changed. The league has certainly gone up a level, considering the players, the staff, and the organisation.

The level of the opponents has been equal, as I feel you can beat any opponent on the day, but you approach every game as it comes, without thinking of the next one.

You spoke about the league, and we have gotten a lot of feedback from the fans about the home run. What do you have to say about playing at home since this is very important this time around?

You have an advantage when playing at home. You are in front of your fans, who bring that extra edge during the game. It has been two difficult games for us, and in the game against Kerala Blasters FC, we came from behind to overturn the result while scoring in the last minute. This was when the supporters helped us, whereas in the game against Bengaluru FC, we scored in the first half when the opponent was pressing and coming hard at us, but the fans again came to our rescue.

It feels very good to play at home, and I hope we keep going and get a positive result the next time we play at home.

The quality of players that Hyderabad FC have is really good. Do you have any game plan for them, especially since you’re coming up against such strong opposition that can influence a game like this?

We believe in our own game plan, and we do not change it much. But we adjust our style according to our opposition.

I agree that Hyderabad FC are a very good team, but we can contain them. I see the opponent on an equal level as us, and we go to Hyderabad with a mentality to get a result and come back with three points.

The team has a lot of young talent. As a coach, what metrics do you set, and what individual targets do you set for the season? What is your thought process while making them better players than they were in the previous seasons?

As a coach, it is our job to not just look at the results, but also to help the players grow, and that is something that is very important to me. I try to secure the future of the players so that they keep growing when and if I am not at the club.

You need to take care of the group in a collective manner and also look toward the individuals. We show the analysis to every player in the training session and keep constant communication going. We are achieving all these points and working hard every day, which makes it a good headache for me to choose a starting eleven from such a group of players. I hope we keep this up until the end of the season, and one day players from this young lot will develop and play at the national level, which will definitely make me proud.

Here are the excerpts from Thoiba’s press conference:

It is your third season with Odisha FC. What are your thoughts on your journey so far?

In the first season of Hero ISL, I was injured, and in the next season, it was difficult to come back, but it has been a great journey with Odisha FC.

How does it feel to play under coach Josep Gombau, who has a lot of experience, especially when it comes to young players?

It is very nice to be guided by the coach. On a personal level, as a coach and a human, we have spoken with each other individually with respect to what he expects from me. I am working very hard for myself, and the team also has a lot to prove, which is going to be good for me.

How has your experience been playing at the Kalinga Stadium?

This is my first time playing at the Kalinga Stadium in front of the fans, which gives me an extra boost. I am trying to score more goals and go forward, and I hope it will come soon.

What are the targets that you have set for yourself this season?

I want to deliver as much as I can for the team. Provide assists, score more goals, and help the team win and achieve trophies.