Mumbai: It was so near yet so far for Kerala Blasters FC but their player-manager David James was gracious enough to accept the defeat and said Atletico de Kolkata were the best team to win the inaugural Indian Super League title on Saturday.
Though the former England No. 1 was disappointed after losing the match but took pride in the fact that his side played well and pushed Kolkata to the hilt.
"I had said they were the best team in the competition and I was hoping that we would still beat them and we had chances too to beat them. It just goes to show that you have to play to the final whistle. A minute before the end, we switched off on a set piece, and it cost us the match," he said at the post-match press conference on Saturday.
"Disappointed of course by losing the game but I have to be positive about the fact that my side got to the final. Pushed the champions to literally the last minute. A bitter-sweet moment I would say," he added.
Praising Kolkata's ability to control the game at crucial times, James said goalkeeper Edel Bete won the game for Kolkata.
"Kolkata started so well in the competition. I said they were the best team, and the best passing team, ball control team in the competition. Today they seemed to control the game at the right times. Not necessarily the most attractive game of football, granted, but it's a cup final and got two team's with very good defences.
"Of all the defensive records, we have the best in the league section and they probably had it in the last six or seven games. It was going to be a tight affair. Edel produced a wonderful save in the fitting moment of the match to keep Michael Chopra out. Effectively, Edel's produced a saving in fitting moment of the match and helped win ISL first competition for Atletico de Kolkata. If Edel hadn't made that save (in the 83rd minute), we would be sitting here as champions and talking about a completely different game," James said.
The former Liverpool and Manchester City goalkeeper said he enjoyed his role of a player-manager for Kerala but hinted that he might play in the next season.
"If I do come back next year, I am not sure I would playing though, at 45 that might be asking a little bit too much. But I have enjoyed it," he said.
James also said that interaction with Kerala co-owner and cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar helped them galvanise as a unit.
"Sachin has had some tremendous performances in his career and I found out that he has some bad ones here as well. It was interesting to speak to another sportsman and I think that is what galvanised Kerala Blasters having Sachin as an owner," he said.
He said Tendulkar spoke to the side after their defeat.
"We spoke with Tendulkar after the match. He said that our team had won hearts and even he had lost here for Mumbai at some point in cricket matches. Big match maybe. It's quite interesting to speak to a sportsman who has been through ups and downs," he added.
A former World Cupper for England, James said there is a huge opportunity for India - ranked 171st in the world.
"I believe there is a massive opportunity for Indian football to grow very quickly. Slightly fair that an Indian player (Mohammed Rafique) scores a winning goal in the final," he concluded.