Odisha FC head coach Sergio Lobera is looking forward to a ‘special game’ as his side take on Mumbai City FC in their second game of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 season at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Thursday. Both sides began their ISL campaign on a winning note in Matchweek One. 

Lobera, will go up against his former side Mumbai City FC. The Spaniard joined the Islanders in the 2020-21 season and won the Shield and the ISL Cup in his first season with the club. Lobera described his time with Mumbai City FC as one of the best experiences in his career and mentioned it will be a special occasion facing his former employers. 

“All the coaches will tell you, it’s one game more, it’s three points more, (but) for me it’s a special game. I was there and it was an amazing experience for me. One of the best experiences in my career working in Mumbai City FC with the City Football Group and we won everything this season (2020-21). I have special memories with this club. Thursday will be a special game for me as I want to win with Odisha FC,” he said in the pre-match press conference.  

While Odisha FC will have the home advantage in their favour, it won’t be an easy challenge to beat Mumbai City FC. The Kalinga Warriors went down to Des Buckingham’s side in both their league games last season. Lobera admitted his team have full respect for the opposition, but said that they won’t hold any fears against season’s Shield winners.  

“They have a very good team, a very strong team. It will be a difficult game. We have respect for Mumbai City FC, but we don't feel afraid. We don't have pressure. We want to enjoy the game. It will be a difficult game, but we have the tools to compete against them. We are ready, we are excited. It’s a big challenge, but it’s a good test for us to compete against teams like Mumbai City FC,” Lobera asserted. 

Lobera was accompanied by defender Mourtada Fall in the pre-match press conference. Fall, who helped Odisha FC keep a clean sheet in their 2-0 win against Chennaiyin FC, demanded the fans to make their presence felt at the Kalinga Stadium.

“We need them (fans). We need to feel we are playing at our home and only fans can do this. It’s not possible to play here (without them) and (we will) feel like we are playing away. We need them to come and support us. We have a lot of challenges this year, so we need our fans,” the former Mumbai City FC defender said. 

Fall, who made his ISL debut for Odisha FC in their 2-0 win over Chennaiyin FC, made his 100th league appearance in the same game. Fall has been a part of the ISL since the 2018-19 season and has played for FC Goa and Mumbai City FC in the past. Fall shared his thoughts on the progression of the league since he first arrived in India.

"Before I came here, I didn't think that the ISL would be like this (the way it is now)," he said. 

"When I came here I saw different things. They have good quality players. Of course, every year, the league has improved. The players, referees, everyone tried to give their best. From (my time at) FC Goa to now, the league has grown a lot. You can see the results now in the Indian national team. The league every year has become more tough and difficult. They have good teams and anyone can win. If you don't take it seriously, the team at the bottom can beat you. So this is good for the mentality of Indian players. With good coaches, in (a) few years, they (Indian players) will be more better," he explained.