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Odisha FC's epic transformation from midtable struggles to Asian glory

Odisha FC's remarkable journey, evolving from a midtable club to AFC Cup contenders, showcases their tenacity and passion. Despite initial setbacks, their AFC campaign witnessed a thrilling comeback, solidifying their place as the Eastern Dragons on the rise.

Odisha FCs epic transformation from midtable struggles to Asian glory

Fall celebrating his goal against Bashundhara Kings


Aswathy Santhosh

Published: 12 Dec 2023 11:12 AM GMT

Odisha FC has evolved from a midtable club to a national football powerhouse within a short span of two years, culminating in their recent historic qualification for the inter-zonal playoff semi-finals of the AFC Cup.

Two seasons ago, Odisha FC languished at the 11th position on the points table, conceding an alarming 44 goals. This stark reality, however, fueled a determined trajectory as the Juggernauts navigated their way to 7th and then 6th place in subsequent seasons, firmly establishing themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the mid-table narrative.

Survival in the fiercely competitive world of football demands resilience, and Odisha FC embraced this ethos, displaying tenacity and a willingness to evolve. The club's passion is palpable, transcending from owner Rohan Sharma to every individual associated with the team, showcasing an unwavering commitment to the club's success. Despite occasional criticisms directed at Rohan for his social media presence, the common denominator remains the undying passion for the club.

A key characteristic that sets Odisha FC apart is their commitment to transparency. The club fosters open communication with fans, promptly addressing queries and providing explanations. This level of openness is a rarity in the footballing world and further strengthens the bond between the club and its loyal supporters.

The turning point for Odisha FC came in the 2022-23 season when they welcomed back head coach Josep Gombau and striker Diego Mauricio. A commendable performance in the Durand Cup set the stage for ISL season 9. Despite a setback in the quarter-finals, their dominance at home, winning seven out of ten matches, underscored their prowess.

While challenges presented themselves in away performances, Odisha FC's resilience shone through, securing crucial victories and draws. Their impressive tally of 30 points secured a historic playoff qualification. However, a bold move saw the departure of Gombau just before the Hero Super Cup, a decision that would prove pivotal in their journey.

Under Clifford Miranda, Odisha FC not only secured their first-ever silverware in the Hero Super Cup but also earned a coveted spot in the AFC Cup group stages. The off-season witnessed strategic recruitment, including the acquisition of master tactician Sergio Lobera. Initial doubts regarding the age of foreign players like Mourtada Fall, Ahmed Jahouh, and Roy Krishna were swiftly dispelled as they became instrumental in the team's success.

The AFC Cup campaign was a rollercoaster, marked by resilience and determination. Initial losses to Mohun Bagan and Basundhara Kings tested their mettle, but Odisha FC emerged as comeback kings. They decisively defeated Maziya S&RC 6-1 and 3-2, setting the stage for a fierce comeback against Mohun Bagan. In a spectacular match, the Eastern Dragons triumphed 5-2, showcasing nerves of steel. The Juggernauts sealed their inter-zonal playoff semi-finals qualification after defeating Basundhara Kings at home, marking a historic achievement.

Club president Raj Athwal's declaration at the start of the season, "We're in it to win trophies," resonates on the pitch. Odisha FC's pursuit of the league shield, play-off trophy, and Federation Cup reflects a determination to excel, proving that the Eastern Dragons are not mere participants but contenders with a singular aim – to win.

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