Materazzi: The first half will be very important

Chennaiyin FC player-head coach Marco Materazzi knows his side have a mountain to climb to make it to the Indian Super League final after conceding a 3-0 lead to Kerala Blasters FC in the first leg of their semi-final. However, the Italian legend is confident that the deficit is not insurmountable for his side, who were top scorers during the league phase.

“It will be very difficult but we believe we can do it,” said Materazzi at the pre-match press conference ahead of the second leg, due to be played in Chennai’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. Materazzi went on to emphasise the importance of starting the game well. “The first half will be very important because if we can get a goal or two, we will put Kerala Blasters under pressure.”

The defender knows, however, that keeping Kerala out will be as important as getting the goals at the other end, as any goals the Blasters score will make Chennaiyin’s job that much harder. “Yes, that will be crucial,” said the former Inter Milan centre back when asked about the importance of not conceding. “We have to play as a team from the first to the last whistle. We have to defend from the front and take whatever chances come our way.”

Materazzi was adamant, however, that his side were not out of the running despite the 3-0 loss in Kochi. “It is still only halftime in the two-legged tie, so anything is still possible.”

Chennaiyin’s last win was against Kerala, when they won 1-0 in Kochi to seal their spot in the semi-finals. Materazzi did not believe that wrapping up qualification earlier than other teams had led to his side getting complacent, and thus failing to win their final two league-phase games as well as the first leg of the semi-final. Instead, the Italian pointed out that becoming the first team to qualify for the semi-final had laid down a marker for other teams, who responded by upping their game against Materazzi’s league leaders.

“At the start of the tournament Chennaiyin wasn’t fancied by anyone but as the league stage progressed, it was clear to everyone that we are a top team,” the Chennaiyin gaffer asserted. “So maybe in the latter stages the opponents raised their game and adopted different strategies to play against us.”

The head coach was accompanied to the press conference by defender Mikaël Silvestre, whose experience of playing in the Premier League, Serie A, and the UEFA Champions League will be vital as his team look to overturn Kerala’s first-leg lead. The former Manchester United, Arsenal, and Inter Milan defender expects an improved showing from himself and his defensive colleagues.

“We have to show compactness while defending,” Silvestre said, “and of course, create as many chances as possible. It will be vital to have the right balance because we can’t just go out there and think we will score three early goals.”

Silvestre concluded by saying that he anticipated a spirited, against-the-odds fightback from his team. “The most important thing tomorrow will be to produce a performance because we know Kerala Blasters are expected to go through,” the Frenchman asserted. “But, they have everything to lose whereas we have everything to gain. We have to fight for the 90 minutes first and then, if needed, beyond that also. We have to show again that we are a team.”