Odisha FC head coach Josep Gombau believes his team is prepared to present their best selves when they host Hyderabad FC in Matchweek 19 of the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 at the Kalinga Stadium, in Bhubaneswar, on Friday.

Positioned seventh in the Hero ISL league standings with 24 points, the Kalinga Warriors have lost their footing in the playoffs race, having won just once of their last five games that included two losses and two draws.

However, Gombau believes the fight is still on and is confident of his team giving their 100% in the remaining four games of the league stage to make their way into the top six.

“It is a very important game. We have three games to finish the league, every game now is like a final for us. We are preparing well, we have very little time to prepare for the game because we played our last game on Monday. I think that the team is ready. On Friday, we will try to give our best game because we want to be in the top six (and for that) it is important to get a good result,” Gombau stated in the official pre-match press conference.

Odisha FC are facing stiff competition from contenders FC Goa and Bengaluru FC in their pursuit of a playoff spot. With four playoff spots still up for grabs, the contest is still equally important for all the teams involved, leaving no room for mistakes. The Spaniard believes each upcoming game will be crucial in determining their fate of being in the playoffs.

“We are in a position where I think three teams are involved for the two playoff spots in the top six. So, every single game will be extremely important. It will be the result of everything. First, we need to be thinking about what we want to do. There are nine points (available) and if we get those nine points, there’s nothing to worry about. But it’s true that it’s also dependent on the result of opposition teams,” he said.

“If we don’t get the result and they don’t get it too then it keeps the race alive. I think we will arrive (to the playoffs) on the last matchday until the last match in the league. From these nine points, we need to get at least seven and that is our aim,” he added.

Hyderabad FC, on the other hand, have been one of the few consistent teams in the league that have been extremely hard to beat, with only two teams - Kerala Blasters FC and ATK Mohun Bagan managing to collect the three points against the side. The 46-year-old acknowledged the brilliance of their opponents this season and urged his side to be confident going into the game.

“Hyderabad FC are an incredibly good team, they are in the top two in the league, and have lost only two games. We need to be in a momentum where we can get a result, we need to be strong, as we’ve got good results when teams have played here (at the Kalinga Stadium). We need to try our best to have a good game, to get some points, and keep our playoff hopes alive,” he commented.

In their 1-1 draw against FC Goa, Odisha FC saw their defender Sahil Panwar being sent off after receiving two yellow cards in the game. Further, first-choice defender Narender Gahlot will be another missing personnel in the backline for the game against Hyderabad FC due to a suspension. Despite the setbacks, Gombau has faith in his squad and wants his side to head on to the field with an unchanged approach.

“We have different options in defence who can play well and do the job, and we are sure that they will. We are thinking about playing our way, our style, and not changing much. Of course, Narender is a player who plays regularly but missing him will provide an opportunity for another player,” he added.

Odisha FC signed a new player contract with midfielder Princeton Rebello from FC Goa. The midfielder, who got limited gametime under FC Goa head coach Carlos Pena this season, is yet to make an appearance in the colours of Odisha FC. The Spaniard provided an update on the player’s availability ahead of the game.

“He’s unlucky, he came and got sick. He will be unavailable in the (squad) list for the game. It’s not an injury, he’s got a fever and will probably miss the game,” Gombau concluded.