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Super Cup review: Clifford Miranda fulfils Odisha's dream; Kerala Blasters, I-League clubs struggle

The Super Cup concluded in Kozhikode on Tuesday with Odisha FC beating Bengaluru FC 2-1 in the final to win their first piece of silverware since their formation. That also meant a crack at Asian competition for Odisha, who now have to beat Gokulam Kerala in the playoff on May 4 to guarantee themselves a spot in the group stages of the AFC Cup next season.

We look at some of the main talking points from the tournament:

Odisha’s season begins with promise and ends with silverware

Around December, Odisha were seen as a team that was in with a chance of contending for the ISL League Shield. However, they went on a poor run post that until the end of the season, and only managed to sneak into the playoffs in sixth place. They parted company with coach Josep Gombau, and what they’ve managed to achieve in the Super Cup is a testament to the work done by interim head coach Clifford Miranda.

The secret has been that Miranda didn’t change too much. The attack still flowed through Diego Mauricio, they still relied on the pace and trickery of Nandhakumar Sekar and Jerry Mawihmingthanga on the wings. What changed though, was the character and togetherness that Odisha showed in adversity throughout the tournament. They went behind twice in the group stage and once in the semifinal, they won two of those games and drew the other. In the final, they started swiftly and had Bengaluru on the backfoot through the first half, which they finished with a 2-0 lead. They showed different sides to their game throughout the tournament, and in the end, were deserved winners of the competition.

Give Indian coaches a chance

The semifinals of the Super Cup saw two out of the four teams helmed by Indian coaches — as Floyd Pinto and Clifford Miranda led NorthEast United and Odisha respectively to the top of their groups. This brings to the fore the age-old question of clubs at the top level not putting their faith in Indian coaches too often. Apart from Khalid Jamil being at the NorthEast United for a season and a bit, Indian coaches have only been given interim roles so far in the Indian Super League (ISL), and that doesn’t look likely to change any time soon.

Miranda and Pinto have shown that they can do the job in the big matches, and that sometimes nationality shouldn’t a factor in the appointment of head coaches.

BFC reach third final, but is it a good season?

Bengaluru FC finished the 2022-23 season having taken part in every domestic match they could have been in. They won the Durand Cup but were on the wrong side of the final in both the ISL and the Super Cup. What will hurt Bengaluru is that they lost two opportunities to fight for a place in Asian competition.

They were far from their best in the Super Cup though. They drew against Sreenidi Deccan and Kerala Blasters in the group stage, huffed and puffed to a win against RoundGlass Punjab, and were soundly dominated in the first half of the semifinal by Jamshedpur FC. Just by the sheer force of their will, Bengaluru were there on the big day again, but without their chief creator and arguably their player of the season in Javi Hernandez, they lacked the cutting edge in the final, and looked an exhausted side bereft of ideas against an Odisha machine that was in perfect shape.

What were Kerala Blasters thinking?

The Kerala Blasters have finished yet another season without a trophy. With this tournament being played in Kerala, it was an ideal opportunity to end that drought in a special manner, but the Blasters were eliminated in the group stage. Adrian Luna’s absence due to personal reasons was understandable, but the likes of Ivan Kaliuzhnyi and Prabhsukhan Singh Gill leaving the camp midway through the tournament asked questions of the Blasters’ priorities and whether winning this competition was one at all.

They did give game time to youngsters like Sachin Suresh and Vibin Mohanan, but their game-changers such as Sahal Abdul Samad and Jeakson Singh sitting out a critical clash against Bengaluru was baffling. After the tumultuous end to their ISL season, surely one way to make a statement would’ve been to win this trophy.

Some respite for Jamshedpur, NorthEast after a tough ISL season

NorthEast United and Jamshedpur were the bottom two teams in the ISL this season. While there were signs of Jamshedpur picking up form towards the back end of the ISL, NorthEast had an utterly forgettable season — they finished with five points in 20 games.

It showed the advantage of having a cup competition at the end of the season, giving clubs a chance to fight for something, something tangible to work for even after a disastrous league campaign. NorthEast beat ISL League Shield winners Mumbai City in the group stage and finished ahead of Chennaiyin FC as well, while Jamshedpur managed to finish above ISL champions ATK Mohun Bagan and FC Goa. Both clubs fell at the semifinal stage, but it was something for them to cheer for after miserable league campaigns.

More disappointment for Goa, Chennaiyin

FC Goa finished with two wins in the Super Cup, but after just missing out on the ISL playoffs, they once again missed out on the semifinals here. It was a season that ended up costing Carlos Pena his job. The over-dependence on Noah Sadaoui and the inability to defend well have plagued Goa all season, and the Super Cup was no different. For Chennaiyin though, it was a tale of underwhelming performances with not too many sparks to speak of. After opening their campaign with a win against NorthEast, they failed to score against Churchill Brothers and the all-Indian squad of Mumbai City FC.

Struggle for I-League clubs

Out of the five I-League sides who qualified for the group stages, only one of them managed a win against an ISL side — Sreenidi Deccan beating Kerala Blasters 2-0. The only other win for an I-League side was a 1-0 success for RoundGlass Punjab over Sreenidi themselves, which cost the latter a spot in the semifinals. Even though there were sparks elsewhere, like in Aizawl’s superb comeback from two goals down to draw 2-2 against East Bengal, it was clear that the gap between the ISL and the I-League has grown into a chasm now, compared to 2018 and 2019, both editions in which at least one I-League side had qualified for the semifinals.

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