By Mikaela Viqueira
New Delhi, Mar 4 (efe-epa).- The Indian Super League – the premier soccer league of the country – is set to kick off its knockout stage on Friday with an ample presence of Spanish players and support staff in the four teams vying for the title, with all matches being played in the same city to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
The final stage of the competition, which will be played in the western state of Goa like the league matches, will consist of home and away knockout semifinals between the four table-toppers: Mumbai City FC, ATK Mohun Bagan, NorthEast United FC and FC Goa.
The final will be played on Mar. 13, with the possibility of fans being allowed into the Fartoda stadium, after the earlier matches being played in a strict bio-security bubble during an extraordinary soccer season amid the pandemic.
On Friday, FC Goa will play against the leader in standings, Mumbai City FC, while NE United will face defending champion ATK Mohun Bagan on Saturday.
Three of the four teams in the knockout stage are being led by Spanish managers: with Sergio Lobera coaching the Mumbai side, Juan Ferrando Fenoll guiding FC Goa and Antonio Lopez Habas at the helm of Mohun Bagan.
The entry of Spanish coaches into Indian soccer has also boosted the signing of Hispanic players, who have joined the ranks of all four teams vying for the title, helping the game get an important push in a country where cricket has dominated the sport scene for decades.
“Spanish players have experience of playing at a high level in Spain, some of them have played in LaLiga. So, in terms of the training they can help the Indian young payers quite a lot,” Indian soccer commentator Siddhanth Aney told EFE.
Aney said that the Spanish style of play, in which ball possession is key, is in sync with the playing style sought by Indian clubs, which has led to growing interest in hiring Spanish managers and players.
The popularity of Spanish soccer led to the arrival of coaches such as Sergio Lobera – with a playing philosophy inspired by LaLiga – who joined FC Goa six years ago and has carried the unique imprint to his current club Mumbai City FC.
Aney also highlighted the contribution of Spanish forward Igor Angulo, the second highest scorer in the league this season with 13 goals for Goa, calling him one of the best footballers of the competition who “plays in a team that from the beginning has had a very strong influence of Spanish players”
The highest number of assists in the ISL have also been made by Angulo’s teammate and Spanish midfielder Edu Bedia.
The ISL, established in 2014 to promote soccer in a country which has never played in the FIFA World Cup, has earlier been joined by veteran stars such as Roberto Carlos, Diego Forlan, David Trezeguet, Robert Pires and Alessandro Del Piero. EFE-EPA