Odisha FC head coach Sergio Lobera shared pride in his players as they came back from behind to secure a 2-1 win against Kerala Blasters FC in the Knockout 1 of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 season at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Friday.

The Blasters were the first to find the net, with Lithuanian forward Fedor Cernych scoring the opener with an exquisite finish in the 67th minute of the match. Just when it seemed that the match was all but over for the Kalinga Warriors, in the 87th minute, Diego Mauricio tapped in the equalizer, converting a cross from Roy Krishna.

With the scores level at full time, the match went into extra time where the home team sealed the deal with a goal similar to their first of the night. Ahmed Jahouh sent in a no-look long ball for Roy Krishna, who made an excellent run behind Sandeep Singh in Kerala Blasters FC’s box, managing a touch to send in a cross for Isak Vanlalruatfela, who made no mistake in putting the ball in the net.

Although Ivan Vukomanovic’s men gave their all to get back into the game, it was Odisha FC who maintained control over the remaining minutes, securing a historic win and qualifying for the ISL semi-final for the first time in their history.

The head coach was delighted with how his team showed character until the very end and expressed pride in them

We are very happy for our fans. And I am very happy because these players deserve to play in the semi-finals. This club also deserves to be there. I think the team showed character, and belief till the end, during all of the season. And today, in the most important game, to make history, (they did it) again, to reach the semi-final. For me as a coach, I am very happy. And I am very, very proud of my players because it's not easy to play this kind of game,” stated Lobera in the post-match press conference.  

He added, “I think the environment today in the stadium was amazing. And they deserve to be in the semi-finals. And we are going to fight till the end to get something important for this club, hopefully the ISL Cup trophy.”

Diego Mauricio, who started on the bench, was brought into the match in the 81st minute by Lobera, and it didn’t take him long to prove his worth as the Brazilian bagged his 11th goal of the season within six minutes of his introduction. 

The Spaniard shared insights justifying his usage of Mauricio as a super sub. 

He opined, “Before you start the game, you are trying to think about some different plans no? One of my plans was this, if the situation is the worst situation, losing the game, then we need to take risks. And finally, although it's about the coach, the merit is from the players coming from the bench. They did an amazing job in terms of the decisions.”

“Also, I was conditioned because it's a little bit of a miracle that Diego is playing today because he got an injury four days ago and the first report said 'he will be out for 15 days'. The medical staff, fitness coach, and the player did an amazing job at the end, that he could play and score one goal,” continued Lobera. 

The 47-year-old also introduced Thoiba Singh in the 81st minute, giving him some significant minutes in a just as significant fixture. 

The youngster has only featured in 257 minutes in the ISL this season, registering a passing accuracy of 85%, winning 15 duels, making two blocks and 10 clearances while also helping his team keep a clean sheet. 

Lobera is happy with how the 21-year-old impacted the game. 

He shared, “I am very happy with the performance of the players in the lineup in the first 11. And I am very happy with the players coming from the bench. Some of them deserve this. Leave this moment, players, like Thoiba (Singh), for example, not getting chances, not getting minutes, and to have the opportunity to play today and to give us, something, I think it is a good example that the players are working very well and they are ready for the challenge when the team needs them.”

The head coach concluded the press conference by expressing his gratitude towards the supporters who came to support the home team. 

It was just amazing. The atmosphere, the environment, was just amazing. I think we need them (Odisha FC fans). If Kalinga Stadium, the building, the stadium, is a fortress, it is because the people are pushing us and giving us what we need in the most difficult moments and in the most difficult situations. So I think I can tell nothing more than big thanks to the supporters, to the people coming to the stadium to support us,” he signed off.

Lobera’s men will face Mohun Bagan Super Giant on April 23 and April 28, at home and away respectively to determine who will be the first finalist of the ISL 2023-24 season.