Injury concerns have been the norm for Chennaiyin FC this season and they will be missing some of their key footballers when they face Atletico de Kolkata in the first leg of the second semi-final in the Indian Super League (ISL) in Pune on Saturday.
Marquee player Elano Blumer and defender Mehrajuddin Wadoo are suspended for the first leg after accumulating four yellow cards during the league phase, while midfielder Raphael Augusto injured himself and is ruled out of the league.
Chennaiyin head coach Marco Materazzi admitted that these players were important but suggested there were others who could still do the job for him.
“They are crucial players but I think at this point all our players have shown they deserve to play,” Materazzi said during the pre-match media briefing.
“It would be crazy to think I can replace a player like Rafa, the best player in the whole of ISL.”
Chennaiyin have never won a match against ATK in the past four times they have faced each other but Italian Materazzi remained unperturbed.
“Last year, we won two games against Kerala (Blasters) and we all saw what happened in the semi-finals. Semi-final is a different game. Kolkata have an excellent team, excellent coach and the right attitude. This will be a good game,” said Materazzi.
With some important players missing, the burden of carrying the team forward in the first leg would fall on Stiven Mendoza. The Colombian forward is the leading goal-scorer with 11 goals and the semi-final is already being billed as battle between Mendoza and Iain Hume, the ATK striker who is a close second in the race for Golden Boot with 10 goals.
ATK and coach Antonio Lopez Habas have been there and done that having won the inaugural edition last year. Asked whether there was pressure on Kolkata to repeat their success, Habas remained non-challant.
“No pressure, absolutely no pressure,” said Habas.
“Chennaiyin FC are a very difficult team for us. They are strong and competitive. We have to play with intelligence,” he said.
Atletico’s two victories over Chennaiyin this season league stages should give them an upperhand in the semi-final clash. Kolkata never really looked troubled in both their matches but the semi-final, as Materazzi pointed out earlier, is a different ball game altogether.
“For me, it’s a 50-50 match. I don’t know (the result), it’s football. I can talk about this after the game,” said Habas.
Kolkata have the luxury of playing the crucial reverse fixture at home. Asked if he would take a draw in the away clash and then go all out for a victory in front of their home crowd, Habas seemed less than impressed.
“There are no advantages (from the first leg), We will still have 90 minutes more after this game,” said the Spanish coach.