Strong men on small grounds!
Till a couple of days ago, Kovalam FC players were not sure whether they would be coming to Kalpetta for the Kerala Premier League’s semifinals.
They had finished fifth in the super-six phase and despite group runner-up Kerala Police opting to travel to Srinagar for the B.N. Mullik all-India Police tournament leaving its KPL semifinal spot vacant, a lot of discussion was held before Kovalam got a confirmed last-four berth.
This year has been a memorable one for Kovalam. The 15-year-old club, packed with young and bright faces, not only made its maiden KPL super-six entry, it climbed a step higher. “I consider this (KPL semifinal entry) a lottery. In fact, we are a team that was fighting to avoid relegation,” Ebin Rose, Kovalam’s head coach, told The Hindu on Monday.
Despite the historic climb, there is also a tinge of sadness.
“We had a chance to win the Development League (currently on in Ernakulam). Our KPL team also plays in the Development League but now that we are playing the KPL semifinals, we will be forced to field younger players there,” said Rose, a former Kerala Santosh Trophy star.
“We’re caught in a devil-and-the-deep-sea kind of situation,” he said.
Kovalam had just one win in KPL’s super-six but it was a stunning 3-0 verdict over the strong Kerala United. How did Kovalam manage it?
“The Kottapady Stadium (at Malappuram), a small ground, offers us a big advantage. We train on a similar-sized pitch back home. So we had that advantage when we played Kerala United, the space was less,” explained Rose.
“With that sort of space, our players moved faster, went for shorter passes and that helped build confidence. Bigger grounds offer big teams an advantage but that turns out to be a disadvantage for us.”
Kovalam will face Gokulam Kerala, against whom it suffered a 4-0 thrashing in the super six earlier, in the first of the KPL’s double-leg semifinals at the M.K. Jinachandran Stadium here on Tuesday.
“I believe we will not concede so many goals like last time though the Kalpetta ground is a big one. My players are good individually and as a team they are good at short passes but link play is an area where we have some difficulty,” said Rose.
“And since I was in Gujarat for my ‘A’ licence course, I could work on them only for a couple of days. Had I got around two weeks we would have given a fight,” he concluded.
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