Kerala Blasters FC head coach Ivan Vukomanovic was grateful for the enormous support from the KBFC faithful and admitted that they acted as the 12th man in their team, as his side swept past East Bengal FC in a 3-1 victory in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 season opener at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, in Kochi, on Friday.

Four thrilling late goals in the second half treated the fans with delight as three of them came from the Blasters, with Adrian Luna scoring the opener whereas debutant Ivan Kaliuzhnyi opened his Hero ISL goalscoring account with a stunning brace late on. Alex Lima scored the lone goal from the Red and Golds as they managed to put up a fight, but ended up losing to a dominant Kerala side. 

Second Half Goalfest Sees Blasters Secure Win Against East Bengal

Vukomanovic was delightful as to how his team attuned to the incredible atmosphere created by the thousands of spectators, and was also confident of his players growing stronger and developing their game style with their time amongst the crowds at their home turf.

The Serbian also hailed new signing Kaliuzhnyi and his impact in the game as a substitute, describing him as a quality player that was a missing profile in the Tuskers’ squad last year, and someone who can turn things around for the Blasters in such games.

The 45-year-old addressed the media in an official post-match press conference.

Here are the excerpts from his press conference:

Do you actually see that the fans played as a 12th man for the team?

Absolutely. It was huge, it was priceless, when you have this kind of support, especially when you’re giving your everything on the pitch. In fact, these fans push you to do better, you have to give your everything for them, even the last drop of your sweat. If you keep believing in the things you want, you saw it personally, how the fans pushed us harder to do better after the first goal.

It can be really intimidating for the away team, so again, if we as a team can master this moment, if we can manage these kinds of games, we can beat our opponents even in deadlock situations. I think East Bengal FC is a team that will show great quality this year, they are not the same team from last season.

You knew what Ivan Kaliuzhnyi could deliver. So, was it a deliberate attempt to use him as a super sub? What are your thoughts on that?

If you speak about the fact that this year, we signed some new players with quality. I think this is something which we didn’t have last year and this extra weapon, [Kaliuzhnyi] you can use in many different situations. He’s a great human being, we’re so glad that he arrived in India, at Kerala Blasters FC. He’s a technical and skillful player who can play across different positions and is someone who can manage and master these kinds of games.

We knew that this game would not be about the first fifteen minutes, it would not be decided in the first half. Even after the first half, following our team talk in the dressing room, we wanted to stay organised and calm to manage this game because this kind of game, when you come back after so long, playing without the fans, there are many emotions. There are many mental things involved too apart from the technical aspects in such a great atmosphere, and I’m really grateful for the support from the fans, it was priceless.

Are you happy with the gametime your forwards managed today?

Yes. We are very happy seeing that they also arrived very well in Kochi. It was their first experience in such an atmosphere in the Hero ISL and they adapted really well. There can be many foreign players coming to India, playing in a great, big team, but this kind of atmosphere was something that many of the foreign players never experienced in their life. So, these kinds of games, they have to manage. We are happy with the quality they have because they are the exact profiles we wanted in our team.

With this kind of atmosphere, they are sure to develop themselves and grow stronger, and it will make them believe in themselves even more, and this is exactly what we need from these players.

Defensively, how much work has to be done going into the next game?

The beauty of football is that it’s a never ending story, there is always some or the other issue to correct. We must admit one thing, these guys were playing in front of such a crowd for the very first time in their life. The beauty of Hero ISL is that many teams start constructing and correcting themselves the moment they start. We’ll never stop working and rectifying things, what kind of things need to change. The young players will never know what is correct or wrong unless they make mistakes. So, these kinds of mistakes when you make in the game, there are emotions, there is adrenaline, and then there’s decision-making.

What was your pep talk in the dressing room at half-time?

Even before the game, we said that we have to continue managing our game. But, first of all, we have to be capable of controlling our emotions, not responding to referee’s decisions, not responding to any other thing that we cannot control because there is no need to do that. We have to keep calm, we have to be capable of managing things when you are nervous, under pressure, and especially when you’re amongst such a huge crowd. That’s the difference between great teams and good teams, and that can be an advantage.

That’s how players become better, the more games they play in front of this crowd, the better they become. So, we said that we have to keep believing, to stay focused, especially in the first ten, fifteen minutes in the second half. Trying to repeat the things as we wanted to keep creating more and more chances especially on the physical side. All of this led to us scoring the goal. So, we’re very happy.