ISL Final Preview: Kerala Blasters’ Dynamism vs. Atletico De Kolkata’s Efficiency

ISL Final - Kerala Blasters FC vs. Atletico De Kolkata

You know, as much as I like a good tactical battle, when I come to the ISL final of a grand tournament, I expect some level of entertainment. Unfortunately, these two teams are not inspiring much confidence in me of getting that.

In fact, I am decidedly feeling underwhelmed about this match. However, since this is the last match of the season I’ll haul my ass to my extremely comfortable TV room and even deign to make myself a drink. Such struggles I go through for you guys.

A Nation Hopes from Kerala Blasters and Atletico De Kolkata ISL Final

ISL Final - Kerala Blasters FC vs. Atletico De Kolkata

ISL Final – Kerala Blasters FC vs. Atletico De Kolkata

Those of you who’ve been watching Chennaiyin and FC Goa must already realise that with both those teams not playing, the ISL final is going to be all about defence.

The most optimistic amongst you will be hoping that Kerala Blasters bring that same swashbuckling drive to the game that they had purring in the ISL semi final.

I fall firmly in the second category. I actually want Kerala Blasters to open the scoring so that Atletico De Kolkata are forced to come out of their shell and attack a little more. Besides, a game that isn’t completely tactical will be good for football in our nation.

Personally, I don’t care who wins in the end as long as the game is fun to watch, so before either of you Kerala Blasters and Atletico De Kolkata fans castigate me, remember that I’m a neutral in this game.

Kerala Blasters Have Slight Edge over Atletico De Kolkata

Stephen Pearson's Deciding Goal

Stephen Pearson’s Deciding Goal

In my opinion, Kerala Blasters have a slight edge over Atletico De Kolkata. My reasoning for this is simple. After the ISL semi finals, Kerala Blasters have more flexibility to their game. They can actually rely on this flexibility to help them come out on top in the ISL final.

They played the whole of the league phase defensively. They couldn’t score a goal even when their league lives depended on it. It’s partly through luck that they got through. However, as David James says, it does take a little bit of luck to win a trophy.

Just look at the years before Arsenal won last season’s FA Cup and Chelsea in the run that was blessed by God, the Son Of God, Three Holy Spirits, Ghosts of Christmas, Zeus, Pagan Gods, Doctor Manhattan, and even the Chittauri.

The best thing that Kerala Blasters did is that they turned up for the ISL semi finals in the most confidence building manner possible. They routed Chennaiyin in the first leg and came up with the knockout punch at the very last moment to get through to the ISL final.

The timing of the knockout punch is important because I think Kerala Blasters were reeling by that time. Their confidence was on the wane and they most probably wouldn’t have survived if the game had gone to penalty shootouts.

Atletico De Kolkata Govern Themselves with a Different Philosophy

Total Football from Ajax in 1973

Total Football from Ajax in 1973

In contrast, Atletico De Kolkata defended for the majority of the 180 minutes of the ISL semi finals. The only time they looked to be peeping out of their hardened shells was in the first half of the second leg. But, they must’ve not liked what they saw because they jumped right back into their shell in the second half of the second leg.

Who can blame them? They fell back on the strategy that allowed them to clear the league phase. After they fell back on it, they actually got through to the ISL final with the same damn strategy.

Heck, that strategy has worked so often that even I am on the verge of believing in its miraculous wonders. The only reason I’m holding back is my allegiance to Total Football – the kind that Ajax made popular in late 1960s and early 1970s. Once you’ve seen total football, you never go back.

Antonio Lopez Habas, Atletico De Kolkata

Antonio Lopez Habas, Atletico De Kolkata

However, Habas the Henchman obviously hasn’t seen that style of football because he has a very minimalistic strategy. He doesn’t want his team to take any risks. I think he hates risk of any type.

He must be the type of person who always keeps a buffer of cash for lean times, ensures that his kids have the fear of god in them, doesn’t eat outside food much, avoids going out at night, never drives after drinking, and erm…never drinks. I wonder how he enjoys life.

Whatever you may feel about his strategy, it has given Atletico De Kolkata results and it’s all about results in the end. If they win, they will be remembered for decades while the great football styles of Chennaiyin and FC Goa will be forgotten by the next generation. Such is football.

Kerala Blasters Have To Cope With Suspensions

Jamie McAllister, Kerala Blasters FC

Jamie McAllister, Kerala Blasters FC

From what the head coaches David James and Habas the Henchman have been saying and what I personally understand of the mentalities of the two teams, I can surmise that Kerala Blasters may set up to attack while Atletico De Kolkata may continue with their own drab but result oriented strategy.

David James clearly promised an exciting game in his pre-game press conference. It’s also important to note that James has managerial aspirations in more high profile leagues in Europe.

I think he wants to impress some big shot Chairmen with his performance in the Indian Super League. He needs to produce in the ISL final for that as well. I believe mentioning winning a trophy in your first season as a manager in your CV is something that will improve his chances of landing a big job. This is another reason why I think he’ll try to go for the win.

The world’s media wants to know about it, so to think that’s it’s easy or that there is no pressure is completely wrong. It’s been three months, it’s been serious from day one, I’m a competitor and I have a team of competitors and we want to win the cup… I think we’re set for a wonderful encounter tomorrow; it’s going to be a wonderful and exciting game.

Kerala Blasters will have some selection headaches. Their biggest problem will be the keeper position. They may have to play the relatively inexperienced Luis Barreto, if neither James nor Sandip Nandy is deemed fit.

Colin Falvey’s fitness will be in question and I think Cedric Hengbart may be injured. They’ll also be without Jamie McAllister and Gurwinder Singh both of whom are suspended. James may choose to use any of Ishfaq Ahmed, Nirmal Chettri, and Raphael Romey in their places. Expect Pulga, Stephen Pearson, and Iain Hume to also continue.

Atletico De Kolkata Will Be Without Fikru

Fikru Lemessa, Atletico De Kolkata

Fikru Lemessa, Atletico De Kolkata

Habas the Henchman will start with his normal strategy simply because it has done wonders for him so far. In a total of 16 games, Atletico De Kolkata have only lost 3.

That, by the way, is the lowest in ISL. Chennaiyin had only lost 3 too till they lost the first leg of their ISL semi final.

Another reason why I think that Atletico De Kolkata will carry on with their strategy of stifling out their opponent’s attacks is because they are still without Fikru Lemessa. He has been their target man and defensive striker, if you must.

Fikru will not take part in the final. His injury does not permit that… But we have other players in our squad who are hungry to prove themselves and will grab this opportunity with both hands.

Without him, they have a sore hole in their attack. They deploy Mohammed Rafi in front but he acts more like a false nine than a proper forward. He still does the job of a defensive forward though.

He is accompanied by Luis Garcia who, let’s face it, doesn’t have the pace or stamina of his younger years. What he does have is vision and that X factor. I expect him to show some magic in the ISL final on account of it being such a big day.

So, this makes Atletico De Kolkata the more efficient team in the ISL final while Kerala Blasters are the more dynamic of the two.

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Habas The Henchman Plans; Atletico De Kolkata Conquers FC Goa!

I was touting this game to be all about the technique of FC Goa going up against the physicality of Atletico De Kolkata but Kolkata surprised all of us. It seems that Habas the Henchman has decided to do exactly what I specified that they needed to do in my review of the four teams in the ISL semi finals.

Even though I said that Atletico De Kolkata needed to become more technical and attacking in nature, I certainly didn’t expect them to actually do it. There’s a warm glow that I’m feeling right now.

Atletico De Kolkata’s New Attacking Formation!

Pody, Atletico De Kolkata

Pody, Atletico De Kolkata

Here I am beating around the bush and not telling you what exactly did Habas the Henchman do.

He decided to go with a particularly attacking formation of 3 – 5 – 2. This is a highly versatile formation because it provides flexibility.

What this formation means is that when the team is defending the wide midfielders will drop back into left and right back positions as the 3 central midfielders fall back to form a second line of defence in front of the 3 central defenders.

While attacking, the midfield pushes up altogether to support the two attacking players up front.

The real trick is for the left and right backs to push forward into attacking positions leaving behind a defence of 3 players.

You’re most probably wondering why I called this formation attacking in the case of Atletico De Kolkata. The reason is the kind of players Habas the Henchman chose to include in this formation.

Baljit Sahni, Atletico De Kolkata

Baljit Sahni, Atletico De Kolkata

He had Jakub Podany (Pody) in the left midfield/back position and Baljit Sahni in central midfield position. Pody is an attacking midfielder while Sahni is a striker.

In addition to this, he had Luis Garcia and Mohammed Rafi in forward positions. Do you see why I called Atletico De Kolkata attacking?

Atletico De Kolkata also welcomed Arnab Mondal back into their starting line-up. I think Habas analysed FC Goa’s play and decided to stifle them in midfield. It worked for the better part of the match too.

FC Goa Reintroduce Bruno Pinheiro

Bruno Pinheiro, FC Goa

Bruno Pinheiro, FC Goa

FC Goa made a key change to their team too by bringing on Bruno Pinheiro as a central defender in the place of Youness Bengelloun.

Bengelloun is a wonderful defender but Pinheiro, remember, is a midfielder first.

He allows FC Goa to build attacks from the back with good passes straight out of defence.

The other change was forced as Narayan Das was injured. Zico chose to play Peter Carvalho in his position.

A Tactical Battle Ensues Between Zico and Habas the Henchman

Antonio Lopez Habas, Atletico De Kolkata

Antonio Lopez Habas, Atletico De Kolkata

In the initial stages, it was FC Goa who dominated the exchanges. At the same time, the game was highly tactical too.

The tactical nature of the game was not surprising especially if you consider the fact that Atletico De Kolkata unveiled a surprise with their tactics.

Despite the attacking nature of Kolkata’s line-up, it was still FC Goa who were dominating the game in the first ten minutes.

Defensively too, FC Goa were sound because they nullified all that Kolkata managed to throw their way.

Atletico De Kolkata Grow In Confidence

Apoula Edel, Atletico De Kokata

Apoula Edel, Atletico De Kokata

Mandar Rao Desai fell very awkwardly in the 13th minute following a tackle from Josemi. The tackle was clean.

For some reason, Mandar landed on his shoulder and spun like a top on it to. That must’ve hurt.

The first great chance came for Miroslav Slepicka who actually decided to shoot from a strange position.

He was turned away from the goal outside the box and decided to turn and try a curler. He had the Atletico De Kolkata keeper Apoula Edel, who dived full stretch to save it, very worried with that shot.

In the last 10 minutes, Atletico De Kolkata grew in confidence and started asserting themselves a little more. They gained more possession and strung together more passes. They even reached FC Goa’s box a couple of time. However, they lacked the cutting edge that was needed.

Atletico De Kolkata Change Formation and Lose Garcia

Luis Garcia, Atletico De Kolkata

Luis Garcia, Atletico De Kolkata

Immediately in the second half, FC Goa were on the front foot through Romeo Fernandes. It was interesting to note that Atletico De Kolkata had changed their formation.

They chose to take off Lester Fernandez to bring on Kingshuk Debnath and revert to their 4 – 4 – 2 formation.

This wasn’t the Atletico De Kolkata I knew. They were showing some flexibility, versatility, and ambition in this game with their formation changes and attacks. I think it came as a surprise to Zico too.

In the 56th minute, FC Goa had a very interesting penalty claim. It looked like a penalty to me solely because Arnab Mondal didn’t play the ball. He was very far away from it, in fact, when he tackled Andre Santos.

So that means Atletico De Kolkata get a lucky penalty in the first leg and FC Goa get denied one in the second. It’s a pity that such poor decisions have the potential to decide the fate of two teams.

Defensive Atletico De Kolkata Kill the Game

Bikramjit Singh, FC Goa

Bikramjit Singh, FC Goa

In the 60th minute, Atletico De Kolkata took off Luis Garcia for Jofre Gonzalez because of a hamstring injury. Kolkata had a good chance from a freekick in the 65th minute which the birthday boy Jan Seda managed to flap away.

You know, I have been upping Romeo all this while but this chap Bikramjit Singh isn’t bad either. He does all the dirty work very quietly and efficiently. He plays with intelligence too. FC Goa have some really talented Indians in their team.

7 minutes later, Santos had Edel save a shot from him with his legs. It was sheer luck for Edel who didn’t know anything about it and was actually in the midst of a mistake.

It was all FC Goa from that moment on as Atletico De Kolkata reverted to type. They sat back defensively, were overly physical, and showed no ambition whatsoever.

It was almost like Habas the Henchman tried his new attacking strategy and when it didn’t work fell back on his tried and tested methods. Pity! Kolkata’s strategy, by the way, took us into extra time.

Trend of FC Goa Attacks without Finishes Continues

Zico, FC Goa

Zico, FC Goa

Before the extra time began, Zico decided to bring on Tolgay Ozbey for Slepicka. This was Ozbey’s first game after he got injured during the league phase.

The whole of the first half of the extra time was about FC Goa trying to unlock Kolkata’s defence.

The match had also gotten slow because of fatigue affecting the players. It’s natural for this to happen even though it is more accentuated in the Indian Super League.

In the 98th minute, Kolkata made something happen but they couldn’t find that key piece of skill. I would like to point out here that Sanju Pradhan was playing really well and showing some good skill.

In the 102nd minute, FC Goa almost made it through and who was it to make the big play – it was Romeo!

He beat 2 to 3 defenders (depends on your perspective) to run into the box and get a shot off. The ball rebounded back to him so he set Mandar up for a shot. Unfortunately, Mandar could only shoot straight at the keeper.

In the second half of the extra time, Zico decided to bring on Clifford Miranda for Mandar. I think Zico was trying to get his more experienced players onto the pitch at that time with the penalty shootout in his mind.

Kolkata matches that substitution by bringing on Cavin Lobo for Sanju. Fresh legs and experience were all that mattered at that stage of the game. And so, we moved into the first penalty shootout of the Indian Super League.

Habas the Henchman’s Strategy Works Wonders

Amiri & Santos Missed Penalties

Amiri & Santos Missed Penalties

Santos showed up for the penalty and, like all his shots on the day, skied his penalty shootout. After him, Ozbey scored but Amiri missed.

Atletico De Kolkata scored each of their goals and won the game on penalty by 2 – 4.

The other scorer for FC Goa was Miranda while the players who showed composure and calm for Kolkata were Josemi, Rafi, Jofre, and Borja.

This means that Atletico De Kolkata move on to the final in Mumbai to meet Kerala Blasters FC while FC Goa join Chennaiyin FC on the side-lines. They would’ve only themselves to blame for not finishing the chances they got.

Moreover, I have to give it to Atletico De Kolkata. While their style doesn’t really benefit Indian football because it’s not encouraging for youngsters, I have to say that it proved to be effective. Well played to them. They were efficient and effective!

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Preview: Will FC Goa Overcome A Jaded Atletico De Kolkata?

FC Goa Crest

So, FC Goa will take on the highly physical and masterful Atletico De Kolkata today evening. FC Goa need to attack from the whistle while Atletico De Kolkata will try to quieten the crowd with their momentum killing strategies.

However, I don’t expect FC Goa to stumble in this one like Chennaiyin FC did yesterday. Despite doing all the hard work, Chennaiyin threw it away in the end and I believe that was a combination of multiple things such as an incomplete squad and injuries along with emotional, mental, and physical fatigue.

Why FC Goa Won’t Falter Like Chennaiyin

Kerala Blasters Win against Chennaiyin

Kerala Blasters Win against Chennaiyin

There is a big difference in how Chennaiyin came into their game and how FC Goa are coming into theirs.

Chennaiyin were plagued by injuries and the loss of pace.

They sorely missed Stiven Mendoza yesterday and I think Materazzi would’ve been better off bringing in a pacey striker in instead of a defender like Alessandro Nesta.

I have a feeling the strategy he used yesterday i.e. big burly defenders as an outlet through diagonals, has been in his pocket for a considerable amount of time.

After all, he brought in Nesta for exactly this eventuality. With Mendy and himself playing in forward roles, they would’ve been short on bodies in defence and Nesta solved that problem for him.

FC Goa have no such issues. They don’t have any injuries (as far as I know, correct me if you know something), and their players are all on a high because they haven’t lost a single game in their last 9 games.

Also, Zico has a well-balanced squad at his disposal which is something Materazzi couldn’t rely on. Materazzi had players playing out of positions for a while now. Sooner or later, it had to come back and bite him in the arse and so it did.

Three Times No Cigar; Fourth Time Lucky?

FC Goa vs. Atletico De Kolkata

FC Goa vs. Atletico De Kolkata

FC Goa has played Atletico De Kolkata 3 times already this season and they haven’t managed to notch a single win in those games.

The first match occurred when they were on a poor run, the second was inconsequential for them because they had qualified, and the third was the ISL semi final in which Atletico De Kolkata were set up to frustrate.

I expect Habas the Henchman to continue that trend so it’ll be up to FC Goa to break them down. Even though they haven’t beaten Kolkata till now, they have the capacity to and they showed it in the first leg.

It was FC Goa who were attacking and putting pressure on Kolkata even though Kolkata were playing at home. What’s more, FC Goa essentially did it for most of the 90 minutes.

Atletico De Kolkata’s Negative Strategies

Atletico De Kolkata's Attack Bears Fruit

Atletico De Kolkata’s Attack Bears Fruit

I have to be honest with you. I have a bone to pick with Atletico De Kolkata. My issue with them is their negative and physical style of play.

They are making football look drab, dull, and boring in a country that needs it to be as entertaining as possible right now.

I won’t be surprised if Habas the Henchman is actually setting out to stretch the game into extra time and penalties because that’s the only way he knows his limited team will get one over FC Goa.

In a way it makes sense because I would peg his players to be the fittest in the league after Northeast United FC. FC Goa don’t come close in terms of fitness. So, the longer Kolkata stretches the game the better their chances will be to win.

I would like nothing better for Habas the Henchman to prove me wrong though. I would like nothing better than to see Atletico De Kolkata coming out of the traps like the hounds of hell are after them.

I want them to take the game to the Goans. I want them to show us all the beauty of their football. I am afraid that this is only a pipe dream similar to the pipes and truncheons that aggressive players from Kolkata will be carrying.

I have one thing to say to Atletico De Kolkata players and senior management. Please, oh pretty please; come out of the lockers to play football not some Aztec version of the game. There’s no place for tlachtli in India please.

What’s The Status of the Two Squads?

Narayan Das Keeps Good Company

Narayan Das Keeps Good Company

FC Goa seem to have most of their players ready and raring to go except for Narayan Das.

He’s ruled out for this game because he got injured early in the last match.

This means that Zico will have to deploy Zohib Amiri, the way he did in the middle of the last game.

I see only one other left sided defender in the Goan team and I doubt that Zico will want to use Andre Santos in that capacity.

While FC Goa’s squad is mostly fit, Atletico De Kolkata’s is in some sort of a trouble. Habas the Henchman has revealed that Fikru Lemessa won’t be available for the second leg just like he wasn’t available for the first one.

Fikru Unavailable

Fikru Unavailable

This means that they don’t have his physicality to rely on. Also, there may be a few other injuries in their squad. Who it is exactly is still not clear.

Although, I think the coach may be referring to Arnab Mondal and Biswajit Saha who were missing the last time out.

While they have four other strikers in their squad, I would expect either Mohammad Rafi or Baljit Sahni to lead the attack. Apart from that, expect Luis Garcia and Borja to start in the middle of pitch just the way they did in Kolkata.

On the flip side, I don’t think we’ll see Sanju Pradhan again as he looked slightly off his game in the first leg. Habas the Henchman may choose to replace him with Cavin Lobo who showed some special enthusiasm when he came on in the last game.

In the end, the Kolkata team’s makeup depends entirely upon the situation with their defenders. If they come back then that’ll free up Ofentse Nato and Lester Fernandez. If this happens then Nato would automatically slot into midfield in the place of Rakesh Masih.

FC Goa’s Rockets and Atletico De Kolkata’s Handbrake

Artificial Turf vs. Natural Grass

Artificial Turf vs. Natural Grass

FC Goa will want to grab the initiative early in this game. They know they have the advantage of playing at home and they’ll want to leverage it as much as possible.

They didn’t have this when playing in Kolkata. However, a bigger problem for the ball playing team of FC Goa was the artificial turf that Kolkata chooses to call a football pitch.

They have a nice, warm, humid climate in Kolkata, you know. The kind of climate that is perfect for growing grass. I wish they would take their position as the home of Indian football a little more seriously and promote the damn game.

I do get a little worked up that a region so full of football fans doesn’t know good football or good pitch. More importantly, artificial turf isn’t good for players’ fitness either. It magnifies the jolts on joints such as knees.

You know how they say that you should jog on mud or grass (Kaccha stuff) as opposed to concrete tracks for the benefit of your joints? Well, artificial turf and natural grass is a bit like that. The former look pretty but the latter function better.

However, if you were to create a hybrid of synthetic fiber and natural grass then it takes on the qualities of both artificial turf and natural grass. Many leading football stadiums in the world use such hybrids. Perhaps, Kolkata should consider this as well and not get caught in financials?

Coming back to the point, FC Goa will have the natural surface to play on again and I expect them to dominate because of it.

Atletico De Kolkata will want to prevent that, obviously, and they are masters at doing that. They have this low key and subtle way of taking the bite out of the game. They’ll rotate fouls and freekicks while slowing the game when they have possession.

They’re very good at pulling the handbrakes on another team’s momentum. Keep an eye out for this one and you’ll see it for yourself. This one will be another one of those attack vs. defence affairs.

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Marvellous Innovation From Chennaiyin Fails to Pay Dividends

Bernard Mendy, Chennaiyin

Wow! What a match that was! I am still catching my breath and trying to calm down my palpitations. This was a game that reminded me of the 2012 UEFA Champions League when Arsenal almost pulled off a wonderful comeback against Bayern Munich.

I remember that Arsenal had lost 3 – 1 at home against Munich. They went back to Munich and were one goal short of eliminating Bayern Munich.

If Chennaiyin had managed to pull off this wonderful comeback I would’ve cited Liverpool’s great comeback in UEFA Champions League final of 2005 when they came back into the game from being 3 goals down.

Strange Strategies Make Sense in Practice

Bernard Mendy, Chennaiyin

Bernard Mendy, Chennaiyin

This was sheer entertainment and it began even before the first ball was kicked with the way that the teams were set up.

For example, the way that Chennaiyin set up was very interesting. They chose to play 8 defensive minded players again.

I would’ve thought that they would’ve chosen to play Bruno Pelissari and Elano both along with Jean-Eudes Maurice and Jeje Lalpekhlua.

If anything, they went even more defensive than their last game. They took out, yes took out, Elano and Balwant Singh. For them, they brought in Gouramangi Singh and Marco Materazzi. I found that extremely confounding up until I saw them on the pitch.

They had Bernard Mendy in the right forward position and Materazzi in the left central midfield position. Harmanjot Khabra, who started the last game in right back, was playing right central midfield.

This showed me that Chennaiyin were trying to use their size advantage. As a result I expected to see lots of crosses and freekicks being thrown in. I was proven right within a few minutes of the first half when Chennaiyin kept lobbing ball to Mendy and Materazzi.

Kerala Blasters, on the other hand, only brought in Sandesh Jhingan for Nirmal Chettri. I don’t think Kerala Blasters had any idea what Chennaiyin would throw at them.

Chennaiyin Started Like Hyperactive Demons on the Pitch

Marco Materazzi, Chennaiyin FC

Marco Materazzi, Chennaiyin FC

Of the two teams, Chennaiyin started much more brightly. In fact, they were so eager that the kick-off had to be done again due to infringement into the centre circle by one of the Chennaiyin players.

Chennaiyin attacked throughout and created the first great chance in the 12th minute. A cross came in from Chennaiyin’s left flank.

It was flicked on by Materazzi and a Chennaiyin player on the far post (I think it was Maurice) hit a venomous shot which the keeper got a hand to. The ball bobbled on the line before it was cleared.

The game was extremely intense. Chennaiyin players were trying to rile up all the Kerala Blasters’ players. Materazzi, I believe, raised his hand to Victor Herrero Forcada’s (Pulga) neck and followed it by condescendingly slapping Colin Falvey’s face.

In the 19th minute, Materazzi set up Jeje who tried the lower right corner but scuffed his shot. It still required the Kerala Blasters keeper, Sandip Nandy to stretch like a rubber band to save it.

A Sending Off Decides Kerala Blasters’ Strategy for the Rest of the Match

Jamie McAllister, Kerala Blasters FC

Jamie McAllister, Kerala Blasters FC

Kerala Blasters managed to create a chance of their own in the 25th minute via Iain Hume. Hume and Michael Chopra combined and the former used a little bit of his skill to get free in the box.

Unfortunately for him, Shilton Paul was off his line to block the shot. Shilton Paul, by the way, was brought on in place of Gennaro Bracigliano.

The situation got worse for Kerala Blasters a little later when Jamie McAllister was given his second yellow card for a rugby tackle.

His first yellow had come in 6 minutes for, get this, time wasting. That sending off made the match even more interesting.

Chennaiyin Complete Their First Labour

Mikael Silvestre, Chennaiyin FC

Mikael Silvestre, Chennaiyin FC

Chennaiyin had a very good call for penalty when Gurwinder Singh pushed Maurice. Instead, the referee gave Kerala Blasters a freekick for the following incident involving high boot.

In the 42nd minute, Chennaiyin completed their first labour. They won a freekick on the left flank.

Surprisingly, Materazzi took the freekick and delivered an Elanoesque ball into the 6 yard box. Mikael Silvestre ran across his defender and headed the first goal. Chennaiyin FC 1 – 0 Kerala Blasters FC

Kerala Blasters Shoot Themselves in the Foot Then Chennaiyin Do the Same

Sandesh Jhingan, Kerala Blasters FC

Sandesh Jhingan, Kerala Blasters FC

Whatever Kerala Blasters discussed during the half time break, it came to naught because they gave away a penalty within 3 minutes of the second half.

Jhingan used Maurice for climbing practice and brought him down in the process.

The referee blew the whistle and Materazzi stepped up. He stroked the penalty home but the referee decided that it had to be retaken because of Maurice’s encroachment into the box.

Materazzi’s second effort flew wide by inches. The score remained the same.

The Calm before the Storm!

Sandip Nandy, Kerala Blasters FC

Sandip Nandy, Kerala Blasters FC

In the 57th minute, Chennaiyin brought on Elano when Nesta had to hobble off due to a faulty hamstring.

Moreover, after the 60th minute, there was a bit of a lull in the game as Kerala Blasters started wasting time by feigning injury. The game became broken and Chennaiyin couldn’t create any momentum.

I think fatigue also came into play because the players looked tired too. In the 75th minute, Kerala Blasters pressed the big red button with 12 letters on it – S.E.L.F. D.E.S.T.R.U.C.T.

A hopeful ball was put into the Kerala Blaster box which Jhingan decided to chest to his keeper. The keeper, probably because of nerves, decided to come for the ball which Jhingan had chested. He was caught in no man’s land and the ball trickled over the line. Chennaiyin FC 2 – 0 Kerala Blasters FC

It’s important to add that the mistake, in my mind, was from Nandy as opposed to Jhingan. That ball was in no way the keeper’s. Besides, Nandy was nursing a hamstring injury and limping all over the place. What was he doing running out of his box?

Chennaiyin Make Everything Even!

Jeje Lalpekhlua, Chennaiyin FC

Jeje Lalpekhlua, Chennaiyin FC

Now, Chennaiyin only needed one more goal and I wanted them to get it because I wanted 30 minutes extra of this wonderful game.

Pelissari got a chance to level the aggregate score in the 85th minute when he broke through the Kerala Blasters defence into the box. His shot, though, ended up going wide.

It wouldn’t matter because on the stroke of 90 minutes Chennaiyin got their third goal by cheating.

Mendy drove towards the touchline in the 18 yard box and looped a glorious cross towards the far post. Jeje was there to hand the ball into the net. Chennaiyin FC 3 – 0 Kerala Blasters FC

I like the fact that this meant 30 minutes more but I didn’t like the fact that it came from cheating. Now, I’m not criticising Jeje because I’ve never been in the kind of situation he was in. For all I know, he handed the ball into the net reflexively.

I’m just ruing the fact that it took something like this for Chennaiyin to equalise on aggregate. I wish the goal was clean.

Chennaiyin now had their tails up in the air. Elano decided to test Kerala Blaster’s third choice keeper with what must’ve been a 35 yarder and another 30 yarder. Luis Barreto could barely keep the first one out while the second one flew over the crossbar.

Same Number of Goals and Now Same Number of Players

When the extra time started, one thing would’ve been clear to anyone watching the match. The match was now Chennaiyin’s to lose because they had the better players on the pitch. In fact, their players were fitter too. They almost showed it in the 100th minute when Elano took a corner and Materazzi almost scored with his head.

In the 104th minute, the game turned on its head. The referee decided to give Materazzi his second yellow card in less than 5 minutes for what was an innocuous challenge. The first yellow card was fair but the second one was plain daft.

It was the wrong call from the referee just like Jeje’s goal was the wrong call. However, what it did was that it made the game 10 vs. 10. With all the remonstrations, angry words, criticisms, and questions from globally established football stars, this was trial by fire for the ref.

Kerala Blasters Pull a Rabbit Out Of the Hat

Stephen Pearson, Kerala Blasters FC

Stephen Pearson, Kerala Blasters FC

The game was well spread with only 20 players on the pitch. Moreover, the fatigue made everyone slow so there were lots of gaps everywhere.

I said the match was Chennaiyin’s to lose and lose it they did with only 3 minutes to go. They allowed Stephen Pearson to score a goal from the middle of the 18 yard box with his left foot.

Granted, he got a lucky roll of the ball but his finish was good. I didn’t think Chennaiyin would have it in them to come back from this. Chennaiyin FC 3 – 1 Kerala Blasters FC.

For the last few minutes, Kerala Blasters would hold out and instead of either of the teams, the match would be counted legendary. This was special folks, I hope you saw it.

If you didn’t, I hope you read this. Even if you do, I hope you do it again! For now, your breathless friendly neighbourhood football buddy bids you adieu.

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ISL Marquee Players & Coaches Lining Up!

Emile Heskey

Its official folks. The Indian Super League is successful because the whole world has started lining up. The most recent names to be connected to the great ISL in the string of other ISL Marquee Players and Coaches include Emile Heskey and Peter “you shall not pass” Schmeichel!

Emile Heskey Could’ve Been One of the ISL Marquee Players

Emile Heskey

Emile Heskey

Emile Heskey is one of the first few to jump onto the ISL bandwagon, claiming that he was asked by one of the teams in the league to come and play. Just in case you don’t know who Emile Heskey is, he was a stalwart of the English Premier League in a bygone era.

Heskey was the traditional English striker who lacked pace but not physicality. He was also considered by many to be a highly intelligent striker. In his time in England,

Heskey chalked up more than 500 appearances in the EPL with more than 300 coming for Liverpool and Leicester City. Heskey was also an England international off and on and has 62 caps and 7 goals to his name.

While Heskey admitted that he chose to stay in England when he was asked earlier, he seems to be regretting the decision because he says that he might consider coming to India in another 1 or 2 years.

I’ve always liked Heskey because he seemed like a decent enough player free from all the other trappings of football fame but I doubt he’ll be able to contribute much if he comes to India when he is 38. That’s a bit too much if you ask me. Besides, I don’t think he has the kind of pull to be an ISL Marquee player.

Peter Schmeichel as a Head Coach?

Peter Schmeichel

Peter Schmeichel

The second name to be connected to the ISL this week is Peter Schmeichel. Schmeichel has claimed that he was approached by one of the ISL teams for the role of manager or head coach.

Schmeichel explained his absence by saying that he had to pull out of the deal because the ISL kept getting postponed. I believe this is Schmeichel’s subtle way of saying, ‘I am ready, please give me that chance again’.

I honestly don’t know if he has managerial experience but if I was to guess I would say no. I do know that since retiring Schmeichel has become a pundit of sorts in the English media.

Schmeichel is a legend goalkeeper whose most appearances came for Manchester United in the 90s. He was known for his lightning reflexes and exceptional decision making. Schmeichel played nearly 300 games for Manchester United and earned the moniker ‘the Great Dane’ through his performances.

He also appeared for the national team of Denmark 129 times. I guess you can equate his reputation to our own cricketing legend Rahul ‘the wall’ Dravid. Schmeichel’s arrival, if it ever happens, would mean the addition of another big name to the ISL, even if this one will be in the managerial role.

I do like the way the ISL is making waves all over the world. That too within its first season! I am kicked to see what happens to football in country. I can’t wait to take a walk through the neighbourhood and see each park filled with little footballers. After all, won’t it be fun to see D Block United go up against Sporting de E Block?

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