Mohun Bagan SG head coach Antonio Habas is approaching the match as a final, where his team will take on Odisha FC in a must-win second leg of the first semi-final of the Indian Super League (ISL) at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata on Sunday.

The Mariners suffered their first-ever defeat against Odisha FC in the reverse fixture of this semi-final match, where the Kalinga Warriors staged a comeback win on their home turf, giving Sergio Lobera's men a slender advantage in the semi-final tie. However, Habas' men will be determined to exhibit a commanding performance in front of their thousands of passionate supporters to reach the ISL final for the second consecutive season.

Habas urged his players to play with confidence and opined that his team would aim for nothing but a victory against Odisha FC to seal the position in the final. The Mariners, who are currently trailing by a goal deficit in this semi-final match, need to secure a win with a two-goal margin to knock out the Kalinga Warriors from the playoffs or risk the tie going to penalties if they only win by a one-goal margin after 90 minutes and the score remains unchanged after 120 minutes.

“There is no overconfidence. My job is to give confidence to my players. We are losing the match by one (goal) and we have one more match (to play) to get into the final. It’s impossible to have any overconfidence. We have players with a 100% idea of winning. But we have to play (well), we don’t have any other option. This is like a final for us, not just a semi-final,” Habas said in the pre-match press conference.

The Kalinga Warriors capitalised on the Mariners’ defensive errors to convert their chances in the first leg. Roy Krishna, who is the joint highest goalscorer in the ISL 2023–24 season with 13 goals, scored the second in the first-leg match, utilising his positioning sense to get the better of his opponent’s communication gap.

Habas, who has relied on his three-man defence strategy by using speedy full-backs through both flanks, didn’t want to move on from his tactics in this short time considering the challenges his opponent could pose.

“For one match, the idea is to make no change in the formations or situations,” he stated.

“I think we had more possibilities in Odisha to win the match with more possession of the ball, but we lost the match for two accidental moves. It’s football. I don’t have any time to change the formation in two or three days. It’s impossible. You have one day of recovery, and another day for match plans. It’s not possible. But we have these options in our heads,” he added.

The ISL 2023–24 League Shield-winning coach does not have an impressive record in his ISL career against the opponent's head coach, Sergio Lobera. The 66-year-old Spaniard has only won a single game against Lobera out of their previous seven meetings.

However, Habas shared his respect for Lobera and also spoke about their long relationship since their very first day. Praising his Spanish opponent, Habas said,

“Lobera is a good coach. We have a very good relationship. I came here at first in 2014, but Lobera is second in the table for the most number of matches managed.”

Habas acknowledged his opponent’s strengths and anticipated an edge-closer match against Odisha FC.

“Odisha FC are a good team with experienced players and have the possibility to win. Logically, it will be absolutely not easy. We have to be prepared to compete with them,” he asserted.

The extreme heat and humidity in Kolkata could be a matter of concern for both coaches ahead of the high-voltage semi-final match. However, Habas didn’t want to prioritize these obstacles, as he was fully focused on bagging a win on their home ground at any cost.

“I don’t know, maybe. It’s true that the humidity in Odisha was less than it is in Kolkata now. I don’t want to think about the possibility of extra time. First, we have to think about the possibility of winning the match and not being eliminated in the first 90 minutes. After that, it’s another thing. I think we have players on the bench with variety to play 30 minutes more,” he commented.

Armando Sadiku and Carlos Delgado will miss the game following their suspensions in the first leg. Habas believed that the absence of their key foreigners would have the same impact on both teams.

“The competition is like this. (Armando) Sadiku is unavailable, but we have another five (foreign) players ready. Football is football. The opponent also has a problem with (Carlos) Delgado. It’s the same problem for Lobera and me.”

“We have to think about the whole squad, not just about one player. We should respect the opponent to win the match. (But) in my opinion, I think we have players to win the match,” he signed off.

We’ll play this match as a final: Manvir Singh


Manvir Singh accompanied his head coach during the press conference ahead of their forthcoming semi-final match against Odisha FC. The Punjab-born winger has four goals and seven assists to his name while creating 34 chances, completing 25 successful dribbles, and winning 87 duels in his 21 appearances thus far in the ISL 2023–24 season. Singh has completed 495 successful passes, averaging 30 passes per game with an accuracy of 78%.

The 28-year-old forward, who played under Lobera during his FC Goa days, scored the solitary goal for Mohun Bagan SG in the first leg in Bhubaneswar. Singh believed that the absence of Carlos Delgado in Odisha FC’s defense line would be an advantage for him and his fellow forwards.

“This will be an advantage for us. We’ll push more forward. We try to finish our movements quickly. We have to keep the ball away from (Mourtada) Fall and give our best,” Singh said.

Knowing the importance of the forthcoming fixture, Singh remained focused and determined to achieve their objective. The forward also urged his players to rectify their silly mistakes in this do-or-die match, which they did in the first leg.

“It’s a fact that it was in our minds that ‘we’re the champions’, but there is no relaxation for me in any match. I approach every single match in the same way,” he stated.

“We’ll play this match as a final and not repeat the mistakes that we made in the last match (in Bhubaneswar),” he concluded.