Northeast United FC Blitzkrieg Chennaiyin FC

Ricki Herbert warned Chennaiyin FC

Ricki Herbert warned Chennaiyin FC

Just look at the Indian Super League table and you’ll see that today’s match was the David vs. Goliath match of the fledgling ISL.

Chennaiyin FC the league leaders and the in-form team of the moment take on Northeast United FC, the team at the foot of the table.

Before the match, Head Coach of Northeast United FC, Ricki Herbert, promised that his side will have a go at Chennaiyin FC. He seemed to have followed through on his promise as there were 4 changes to Northeast United’s starting line-up.

In came Boithang Haokip, Guilherme Felipe de Castro, Massamba Lo Sambou, and Durga Boro for Aiborlang Khongjee, Robin Gurung, Do Dong Hyun, and Isaac Chansa. Marco Materazzi decided to rest Bojan Djordjic and Mikael Silvestre and replaced them with Jean Eudes Maurice and Jairo Andres Suarez Carvajal.

Northeast United FC Open Scoring Quickly

Durga Boro, Northeast United FC

Durga Boro, Northeast United FC

Not surprisingly, Northeast United did start in a more attacking manner and put Chennaiyin FC on the back foot who decided to focus on counterattacking.

They were camped in Chennaiyin FC’s box and you could see that they had a do or die attitude about the game. They had nothing to lose and they were playing like it. Their brilliant attacking play yielded results soon enough.

The goal was scored in the 10th minute and was a result of a lucky ricochet of the ball. However, it’s not like Northeast United didn’t deserve it because they did.

The cross came in Djemba-Djemba headed it out but it hit the back of the head of another Northeast United FC. The ball dropped fortuitously to Durga who put it beyond the onrushing keeper into the bottom corner. Chennaiyin FC players looked shell-shocked. Northeast United FC 1 – 0 Chennaiyin FC.

Chennaiyin FC Rattled By the 2nd Goal

Massamba Lo Sambou, Northeast United FC

Massamba Lo Sambou, Northeast United FC

Northeast United FC upped the ante even further after another 10 minutes and scored their 2nd goal of the game.

After camping firmly in the Chennaiyin FC box and throwing balls in left, right, and centre, they finally struck gold with a cross from the left flank.

The ball came in from a freekick and it was a good one. Massamba rose and put the ball in the far corner. A Chennaiyin FC defender tried to clear the ball but could only put it into the roof of the net. Chennaiyin FC players were rattled. Northeast United FC 2 – 0 Chennaiyin FC.

Northeast United FC All but Insure Their 3 Points

Four minutes later, in the 23rd minute, Massamba struck again. The freekick again came in from the left side and found Massamba’s towering head. He powered one devastating header into the far side of the net. Chennaiyin FC heads were dropping. Northeast United FC 3 – 0 Chennaiyin FC.

Chennaiyin FC were slow, sluggish, and aimless till the 35th minute. It’s only about that time that they started realising that more than half the match is left. They did pick up their game a little then. Still, they couldn’t really do anything useful and kept undoing their work by giving the ball away.

Twice, Northeast United FC’s striker got free with only the keeper to beat. The 1st time, the keeper saved well and the 2nd time Bernard Mendy deflected the shot. The rest of the half petered out.

A Toothless Display from Chennaiyin FC in the Second Half

Joan Capdevila, Northeast United FC

Joan Capdevila, Northeast United FC

Chennaiyin FC seemed calmer in the second half and even had the ball in the net via Cristian Hindalgo Gonzalez.

Unfortunately, he was in an offside position and the goal didn’t count. If the first half was thrilling and full of action, the second half was a drab affair.

Marco Materazzi tried to change the complexion of the game with substitutions but the people he brought on couldn’t do much. The game was mired in midfield and everything was interrupted which is probably what Northeast United FC wanted in the first place.

Things did look up for Chennaiyin FC when the referee gave Joan Capdevila his second yellow card. The first yellow card came in the first half when he deliberately handled the ball. This one came when he raised his hand to Maurice’s face. Both were unnecessary and not the kind of thing you expect from someone who has as much experience as he does.

The sad bit is that Chennaiyin FC couldn’t really take advantage of their one man advantage. They looked utterly, completely, entirely, hopelessly toothless in the game. While their qualification for the knockout stage isn’t really in question for me, if they want to win the semis and the final then they’ll need to somehow get Elano back.

It’s not the end of the world for Chennaiyin FC from any perspective though. In hindsight, I think Materazzi understands that his team is lacking many key players. This is probably why his comments were so sober and measured in his pregame press conference.

Another Bottom Team Proves Everyone Wrong

From the Northeast United FC angle, I believe this is what you call the “commentator’s curse”? This is the second time I’ve been proven wrong by a team at the bottom of the table after I said that they’re finished. The last was Delhi Dynamos FC.

To be fair, no one could’ve predicted what Northeast United FC would do. They literally pulled the German blitzkrieg on Chennaiyin FC. I say literally because the German blitzkrieg was all about aerial firepower and that’s what Northeast United FC’s win was based on.

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Indian Super League and I-League to Merge

Kushal Das, AIFF
Kushal Das, AIFF

Kushal Das, AIFF

A week back, Arsene Wenger compared football to virus. In the same post, I had predicted that the only foot forward for Indian football is for the Indian Super League to merge with the I-League.

I said, “One way that I can see is that these teams get incorporated into the ISL and the ISL gets expanded to a full season with complete FIFA approval.”

It seems that the lady luck smiled on me and my prediction is going to come true, albeit in the next five years*. The revelation came by way of Reuter’s article on an interview of an Indian FA official**.

AIFF Reveals Good News

The official, one Kushal Das, the General Secretary of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) explained in clear terms that in the next five years the two rival leagues will merge to make one complete league with anything between 14 to 16 teams. His exact quotes were:

Probably 14-16 teams pan-India going on for seven to eight months. That’s the vision…

He seemed to be a forward looking official who was more interested in the sports then furthering his own cause, kind of a rarity amongst Indian officials connected to sports. He believes that the purpose of the I-League and the Indian Super League is to simply further the development of Indian football. Hear! Hear! I say!

A Good Step Forward for Indian Super League

Again he made no bones about it and was as explicit as anyone can be about what he’s talking about.

The ISL and I-League are a means to an end. The end is the development of Indian football.

It’s going to be one of the most crucial moves for Indian football. The first one was, you guessed it, the conception and successful completion of ISL which is on track. I believe the fact that the average attendance of the Indian Super League is miles ahead of the I-League is a distinct hint that the idea has been successful.

While the average match attendance has varied, it has hovered in the region of 25,000. This is in stark contrast to the I-League, which has a paltry average match attendance of about 12,000 to 15,000.

All India Football Federation

All India Football Federation

What’s worse for the I-League is that a large chunk of that average attendance comes from the Bengal derbies between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. How much crowd do these derbies draw? Why in the range of 100,000!

So, you can essentially bring down I-League’s average attendance to about 10,000. This means that the Indian Super League has drawn 2.5 times more people than I-League. If that’s not an argument for merging the two leagues, nothing will float your boat.

The biggest concern for the AIFF, as of now, will be making the combined competition profitable. Das says that it will take about 6 to 7 years for that to happen. I think the Indian public may just surprise them. Between television rights, match attendances, private investment, and merchandise, I do think that the league will become profitable much earlier than the projected timelines.

Expect Improvement In Quality Of Football

Indian Super League

Indian Super League

Have a thought for the quality of football. The quality of football in the Indian Super League has been generally good even though it leans towards the defensive side a little.

But, defence is as much a part of football as attack. If you don’t like that side of the game, my honest suggestion is to give it a little more time and you will appreciate the tactics too.

I, myself, enjoy goals as much as any other normal bloke but can appreciate defence as well. After all, I doubt there’s an Arsenal fan in the world who doesn’t know the value of good defence.

It’s almost a part of the induction procedure for supporting that team. I’ve always felt that Arsenal fans were a little sadomasochistic anyways with the way the team’s defence has been performing of late. In any case, I’ve deviated.

I-League

I-League

My point was that Indian Super League has entertained even though the players haven’t had time to gel in and even though fatigue has affected the quality.

Think what will happen when the same teams get to practice together for 8 months and get enough rest between their games. The quality will shoot up!

Downside Could Relate To ISL Marquee Players

ISL Marquee Players

ISL Marquee Players

Unfortunately, I see a downside to this plan too. This is the fact that our teams may have trouble luring the pedigree of players that we have right now. Right now, all the high profile stars we have probably came in thinking of playing hard for 2 to 3 months and then going away.

What happens when our teams approach a guy to play for 8 months? That’s a long commitment. It’s a minor problem that I’m sure some carefully printed photos of Gandhi on a rectangular piece of paper would not solve. Don’t let my penchant for the dark side of the moon affect you. For now, Indian football is on the up!

*Yes, I am blowing my own trumpet but that’s why one owns a trumpet, is it not? You own a musical instrument, so you play it. What’s the point of having a trumpet if you’re not gonna bother the neighbours with it? Seriously though, I am kind of ecstatic that I could predict something so crucial and so close to my heart. It’ll be fun watching these matches all year round. Wouldn’t you say? I’ll keep you company, if you’re worried.

**You can read the original article here.

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Northeast United FC vs. Chennaiyin FC: Last Chance Saloon?

Northeast United FC vs. Chennaiyin FC

Northeast United FC vs. Chennaiyin FC

Today’s match is like mixing the colours violet and red i.e. teams at the two ends of the spectrum*. Chennaiyin FC sit proud at the top of the table having dethroned Atletico De Kolkata and further fortified their position.

In contrast, Northeast United FC sit humble at the bottom after being overtaken by Delhi Dynamos FC (the next worst team in the league) in their last game.

From what I can see, the Indian Super League has reached a juncture where it will start offering up Last Chance Saloons of various kinds. Today’s Last Chance Saloon is Northeast United FC’s. If they don’t win today’s game then they can very well forget about making it into those qualifying spots in the table.

It’s A Poor Situation That Northeast United FC Find Themselves In

They are currently off by quite a significant margin especially if you consider how many games they have left to play. Northeast United FC is off Kerala Blasters FC by 5 points and the next game will be one of their final 4. This means that they have to make up a deficit of 5 points and there’re only 12 points available.

It would be a tall order for a team that wasn’t having trouble scoring goals and Northeast United FC are actually, well, not exactly scoring goals. In their last game, they actually let in 2 goals to a team that hadn’t been doing well till then.

Does this mean that Northeast United FC have now lost their defensive solidity? Well, one game makes not a league so perhaps I’ll wait before giving kneejerk reactions.

Expect a one-sided affair folks, the kind you see 13 year old boys having with their classmates and 16 year old girls having with chocolate boys from TV shows. Northeast United FC will have to work very hard to get a draw in this game. I would like to see them give it a hearty go, though. Why?

Ricki Herbert, Northeast United FC

Ricki Herbert, Northeast United FC

Well, because I want to see Chennaiyin FC tested in the way that only Northeast United FC can test them. I want Chennaiyin FC players to be pressed and harried like there was no tomorrow.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think there’s any tomorrow for Northeast in the league unless they win this one. They’ll be relegated to playing their last 3 games for “pride”.

The head coach of Northeast United FC, Ricki Herbert, promised the team’s hefty support that they will play an attacking brand of football and will “come hard” at Chennaiyin FC. It’s interesting that he lauded his team’s good style of football when a reporter mentioned it. I like the philosophy of Northeast United FC and have always liked it.

What Herbert said is actually the reason why I like the way Northeast United play. The head coach said,

Playing long balls and punting it upfield has never benefitted a team in the long run. We are so close to being a good all-round team. It is important to believe in the philosophy and stay true to it even when you fail. I believe that we will eventually come good.

I fully agree with Herbert on this and am glad to see that he’s sticking to his guns. I do think that they’ll come good with just a couple of right signings next season. For this season, though, I think they’ve got too much to do and too little time to do it in if they want to break into the top 4.

Chennaiyin FC Can Go From Strength To Strength

The situation is much prettier for Chennaiyin FC who can stretch their lead from the 2nd spot even further at least till Atletico De Kolkata play their next game day after tomorrow.

Chennaiyin FC is the most prolific team in the league and is all set to become the most defensively sound team in the league with the introduction of Alessandro Nesta. Those of you looking forward to seeing Nesta will have to wait, though, because he’ll only be able to play in the first week of next month.

Marco Materazzi, Chennaiyin FC

Marco Materazzi, Chennaiyin FC

I expect Northeast United FC to have trouble keeping Pelissari, Jeje and company quiet because they’ve all been in tremendous form. Further, I expect Chennaiyin FC’s defence to keep a tight leash on whatever attacks Northeast United FC can come up with.

Marco Materazzi, who has impressed in the managerial role, is showing signs of becoming a very perceptive head coach for his team. He seems to be anticipating any problems that they may have and countering it beforehand.

This is probably why his team are doing so well in the Indian Super League. It’s evident in the way he has been approaching his pre-game press conferences.

With respect to this game, Materazzi wanted to pre-empt any complacency issues within his team as they sit at the summit 3 points clear. He asked his team to focus on the next game adding:

Tomorrow is another important game for us because according to me, we still need five or six points to reach the semis and if we win against Northeast United FC, there is a 70% chance of us being in the semi-finals.

Materazzi seems to have a finger on the pulse of his team and his experiences as a player in some of the best tournaments of the world add to his anticipatory skills. It’s good to see such a perceptive manager plying his trade in the Indian Super League.

I shall be there after the match with a report for you chaps. See you then.

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FC Goa 3 – 0 Kerala Blasters FC; Only Goa Showed Up Today

FC Goa are seen by many fans of the Indian Super League as plucky upstarts. Today, they got a chance to show themselves as something much more. Maybe they could prove themselves to be championship material. Kerala Blasters FC had a chance to apply some pressure on the two favourites of the ISL – Chennaiyin FC and Atletico De Kolkata.

FC Goa Had the Edge

Zico, FC Goa

That smile says it all!

FC Goa had the momentum as well as the home support on their side which is probably why they chose to not make any changes to their starting line-up.

This meant that Robert Pires remained on the bench. He is old, you know. He needs his rest.

Besides, his team’s been winning without him. I think Romeo Fernandes is a worthy understudy for him. Kerala, surprisingly, made two changes to their starting line-up.

More than the fact, the type of change was surprising because they chose to take off Iain Hume. The only reason I could think of for this particular change was that David James wanted his team to be more physical than agile.

Andrew Barisic is more of an imposing target man than Hume could ever hope to be. My gut feeling turned out to be right because throughout the first half Kerala Blasters FC tried to physically intimidate the FC Goa players. I think David James took a leaf out of the playbook used by Harry Redknapp, and Tony Pulis. He did change his strategy in the second half, though.

David James Is the Great Wall of India

David James, Kerala Blasters FC

David James, Kerala Blasters FC

The game began at a frantic pace with FC Goa full of attacking while Kerala Blasters FC kept playing dirty. Just to show you how dirty and cynical they were being – they had 2 yellow cards within 30 minutes.

The first real piece of goal mouth action came from Tolgay Ozbey who was set free from the left flank with a marvellous ball. He ran in at a tight angle and got a powerful shot off which hit the inside of the far post and fell back into the 18 yard box.

The follow up from another FC Goa player (I couldn’t see which one) was saved by David James wonderfully. From the resultant corner, David James was at it again when he saved a bullet of a header.

Immediately after, Kerala countered and came up with a great through ball for Barisic. He ran into the box but could only come up with a poor finish. In-between these events, Romeo Fernandes showed some good skill in defence and attack both. He seemed like a confident player. The way he tackled, dribbled, and crossed while handling increasingly physical pressure from Kerala reminded me of the willow tree. It bends, it leans, it even turns with strong wind, but it keeps the ball! I don’t need to tell you that I’m tremendously impressed with this guy.

Mandar Rao Desai made a well-timed run in from the left flank and Andre Santos picked him out with a peach of a ball. Desai latched onto the ball only to find David James looming almost on the edge of his box. He tried to score past him but James’s big foot managed to divert the ball for a corner.

Into the stoppage time we went and David James made his first mistake of the game. He came for a ball but fumbled it into Santos’ path outside the box. Santos just had to finish and he hit a good shot but there was a defender on the line who headed it out. The man at the line was Gurwinder Singh. That was virtually the last action of the first half. FC Goa 0 – 0 David James.

Kerala Blasters FC Try but Goa’s Quality Shines

In the second half, David James felt that his team was suffering too much. As a result, he brought on Iain Hume and Milagres Gonsalves to push FC Goa back a little. It was an interesting change simply because he took off two defenders for these two attacked in the form of Raphael Romey and Godwin Franco who was in some serious danger of being sent off.

The changes didn’t make much difference for David James and if he wants a chance top coach in England and he needs to do better than that. They did do some good things but it wasn’t enough to quell FC Goa’s drive to attack. FC Goa continued to attack and dominate Kerala left, right, and centre. In the thick of it were everyone from Andre Santos, Narayan Das, Mandar, Amiri, and virtually everyone else.

The way FC Goa were playing this game, it was theirs to lose or draw. Kerala had no say whatsoever what happened to them. They were being steamrolled. The only problem was that FC Goa didn’t know how to finish their beautiful moves.

Slepicka Heralds Kerala’s Downfall

Miroslav Slepicka, FC Goa

Miroslav Slepicka, FC Goa

In the 63rd minute, the referee decided to yellow card Hume. There was no contact and Hume didn’t deserve it, someone else did. I think the referee didn’t like all the winking that Hume was directing at him*.

We Indians are famously homophobic and I think the referee didn’t see Hume’s winking as too much. Hume himself was flabbergasted and totally confused about what the referee was about.

The yellow card was ridiculous and if there was a referee for referees, the referee would have been yellow carded by the referees’ referee.

From the resultant freekick, Santos put in a good ball which Miroslav Slepicka stroked into the net from the far post. It was a long time coming and was thoroughly deserved. I have to say, I didn’t expect Slepicka to score. I thought it would be someone else. Fair play to the forward though. The finish was smooth, composed, and very accomplished. FC Goa 1 – 0 Kerala Blasters FC.

Kerala Try to Fight Back but No Cigar

Andre Santos, FC Goa

Andre Santos, FC Goa

Kerala Blasters FC tried to fight back and guess who led them. It was the incredible Hume with his infallible dedication and intensity. Unfortunately for him, FC Goa put the game beyond Kerala Blasters FC.

It was an exceptional counterattack and the ball was given to Romeo on the right flank inside the box. He gave the defender the eye and cut the ball back to Andre Santos.

It was a no look pass! You know? The kind you do in basketball? The ball came to Santos who controlled is with nonchalance and put it into the bottom far corner. This was game over for me. Andre Santos 2 – 0 Kerala Blasters FC.

Slepicka the Sharpshooter with a Brace

FC Goa

FC Goa

In the 79th minute, Slepicka got his second goal of the game and FC Goa squashed even the smallest of hopes that Kerala Blasters FC might have had.

Clifford Miranda was set free behind the Kerala backline by Santos. He took the ball on but was caught for speed by Sandesh Jhingan**. Miranda managed to pass to Slepicka who returned the ball to him.

Miranda returned the favour, freeing Slepicka with a back flick. Slepicka tried James’ the right bottom corner and James saved. The ball fell back to Slepicka who didn’t make a mistake this time. FC Goa 3 – 0 Kerala Blasters FC.

Once the goal went in, James was so pissed he tried to kick the goalpost. He missed like all his strikers and got his foot stuck in the net. I felt sorry for him even though it was slightly funny. He played so well in the first half only to be let down by his team.

That was the last of what was a very good day for FC Goa. They didn’t only win but they won it with style. With this win, their march up the table continued and they overhauled Kerala Blasters FC. They are now in 3rd and Atletico De Kolkata must be looking over their shoulders and worrying about what may happen especially since Goa’s GD is the same as Kolkata’s i.e. +4. And you know what? They did it without Robert Pires!

*I believe Iain Hume has some problem with his eye, as per the commentators. One of his eyes is more closed than the other one. The man was uncomfortable all night long and was closing one eye repeatedly because of it. It was like a tic. You gotta appreciate his desire to play for his team though. He played and made a difference.

**He’s another one for the future. I’ve been impressed with him as well.

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Mendoza Out; But Look Who the Replacement Is!

Chennaiyin FC were rocked by the news of John Stiven Mendoza Valencia’s injury but immediately after began rocking when they found out that the legendary Alessandro Nesta will be his replacement. In the world of replacements, I doubt there’s any better.

Alessandro Nesta The Legend

Alessandro Nesta, Chennaiyin FC

Namaste, Senore Nesta, Welcome to India

Alessandro Nesta holds the kind of reputation in Italy that only Sir Sachin enjoys in our country and the Indian Super League is better for his arrival. If you thought Chennaiyin FC’s defence was good till now with people like Marco Materazzi, Bernard Mendy, and Mikael Silvestre, imagine what it’ll be like now with one of the biggest ambassadors of a good defence joins them.

Wikipedia says that Alessandro Nesta is “widely considered to be one of the best centre backs of his time”.

If that’s not enough for you and you are a complete football teetotaller then consider the fact that Alessandro Nesta is a World Cup Winner (2006) and also a four time Serie A Defender of the Year – that’s in a country that has an assembly line of high quality defenders.

He is also a UEFA Champions League Winner (the biggest championship in Europe). What you can be sure about that he had the pedigree to be included in the ever growing cluster of ISL Marquee Players in India.

Alessandro Nesta can be considered to be the one man that made a drab position in football artistic and stylish. Defenders have never been revered the way strikers have been but while Alessandro Nesta was at his peak, there were plenty of kids who wanted to become central defenders.

Alessandro Nesta was probably roped in by his countryman Materazzi but what made it easier was that he was nearby in the global scheme of things. Nesta is currently in Bangkok where he will be playing in the Global Legends Series. Expect him to join Chennaiyin FC from the first week of December with December 5th being touted as the possible date.

But Which Position Will He Play?

Stiven Mendoza, Chennaiyin FC

Sad to see you go…

The tacticians amongst you must be wondering where Alessandro Nesta will play especially since Chennaiyin FC has been employing the 3 centre back formation with Silvestre, Mendy, and Gouramangi Singh in the centre of defence and Materazzi as the defensive midfielder.

You can rest assured that Gouramangi Singh, who is injured anyways, will be replaced by Alessandro Nesta in what will be a like for like change.

Mendoza, however, will still be missed by Chennaiyin FC as he was the one who gave them pace. Still, it shouldn’t bother them so much because in the last two games his absence didn’t seem to affect them so much. He could be replaced by a number of players with the foremost being Bruno Augusto Pelissari de Lima, especially once Elano comes back into the fold.

If Atletico De Kolkata was worried about Chennaiyin FC’s challenge till now then it’s certain that they’ll be quaking in their boots at the mention of Alessandro Nesta…

…and the Indian stock in world football rises ever higher. Forward and upward!

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