Kerala Blasters FC head coach Ivan Vukomanovic expressed his disappointment after his team suffered a 2-1 defeat against Odisha FC in Knockout 1 of the Indian Super League (ISL) at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Friday.

Despite both teams creating goal-scoring opportunities, they failed to capitalize on them, with the visitors having the better chances in the opening half.

The Blasters finally took the lead in the 67th minute, courtesy of Lithuanian forward Fedor Cernych's exquisite finish. Sergio Lobera played all his cards in search of the equalizer, and the Kalinga Warriors found it through Diego Mauricio, who tapped in a Roy Krishna cross to push the game into extra time.

In the 98th minute, Ahmed Jahouh sent a long ball to Krishna, who then set up Isak Vanlalruatfela, and the winger made no mistake from close range, sending his side to the ISL semi-finals for the very first time.

Vukomanovic lamented that his team's failure to convert crucial opportunities significantly impacted the outcome of the match, as he reflected on the game after the match.

"In these kinds of games, you will not have 25 or 30 chances. This is a tough game, this is a knockout phase, and whenever you create chances, you have to be concentrated to score those goals,” Vukomanovic stated in the post-match press conference.

"Of course, the boys wanted to push that ball into the net, but again, if you don't score those goals, you get punished from the other side, and you're eliminated,” he added.

The head coach emphasized the positives from the game, particularly the fighting spirit displayed by his side against a formidable opponent like Odisha FC. He also conveyed his gratitude towards the traveling fans, who have consistently stood by the team's side.

"They were giving everything on the pitch against one really good team. If you look at Odisha FC, they are one of the most consistent teams since the start of the season. So they were playing all the time with a full squad. They had all the players available, especially speaking about foreign players who are making the difference,” Vukomanovic opined.

“So of course, I'm grateful for their support (in the away game). I'm grateful for everything they were doing for us this season,” he added.

Adrian Luna made a late substitute appearance for Cernych, marking his first game back post-injury. However, forward Dimitri Diamantakos was completely sidelined due to injury, and second-choice goalkeeper Lara Sharma was forced to be substituted off during the game due to another injury.

This unfortunate situation serves as yet another illustration of their injury-plagued season. Vukomanovic addressed the recurring issue of key player injuries and how they have consistently impacted their performance throughout the season.

“When you start the season, you want to build up the way you play, the way you defend, the way you attack. And then the moment you reach that level with injuries, you crash. And you restart. You're set to zero. You have to redo it again. If you do it twice in one season, it's a hell of a job. We did it four times,” he commented.

“For me personally, the hardest season I've ever had in my life as a coach. Now it's been 10 years of coaching because throughout the whole season, there were so many things that you cannot control. You have to deal with that,” the Serbian added.

With this defeat, the Blasters' season has drawn to a close, mirroring their exit at the same stage as last season.
Despite the disappointment, the head coach expressed pride in his players and reiterated the positive moments they experienced throughout the season.

“It’s kind of mixed feelings. Happy because we developed many things, we reached many levels in the moment when we were actually a little bit complete with the team. We were beating everybody in the team, whether we were playing at home or away. And of course, at the end, disappointed because we're out,” Vukomanovic signed off!