Atletico De Kolkata vs. Chennaiyin FC Review

The Clash of the Champions ends in an eventful and exciting draw

I’m very curious about a particular statistic about the Indian Super League. Of all the goals scored in the three ISL seasons, I want to know if the vast majority of them were scored in second halves. It’s easy enough to do. All one needs to do is check the scores in all the matches. I am much too lazy to bother. Are any of you interested in doing this? If you watched Atletico De Kolkata vs. Chennaiyin FC, then you know why I want to know.

This match ended in a 2 – 2 draw between the 2014 and 2015 champions. It should ideally have been a home victory but I think the change in stadiums for Kolkata caused some disconnect for its fans. They were mostly quiet throughout the match. Even when Atletico De Kolkata took the lead in the game, I didn’t notice any marked difference from the crowd w.r.t. to noise. Atletico De Kolkata were playing at the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium, as opposed to the Salt Lake Stadium which is being prepped for the Under17 World Cup.

Chennaiyin FC took full advantage of the apathy from the Atletico De Kolkata fans by bullying their players around. It was a nostalgic match for me, albeit in reverse. I remember Atletico bullying people and being overly physical in 2014. This time it was Chennaiyin being overly physical and Atletico players on the receiving end. It is to both teams’ merit that they managed to get a draw from the match because both of them had leads at different moments of time.

In terms of players, Sameehg Doutie stood out for me, finishing the game with one goal and one assist. Keep an eye on this kid, he can be good if he chooses to eat some protein and lift some weights.

Team News for Atletico De Kolkata and Chennaiyin FC

ATK Stadium

The team news for this one is interesting from the perspective of personnel as well as formation. Atletico de Kolkata chose a flexible formation i.e. 4411 or 442 with Iain Hume operating in the hole behind Helder Postiga. Postiga had a smashing start to the last season but his great start was brought to a gut wrenching halt by injury. He would be looking to avoid the same this time out – the injury not the goals, in case you were confused.

Jose Francisco Molina made an interesting decision by going with the Indian Debjit Majumdar instead of the Spanish Dani Mallo. This could be because of the ISL rule requirement of having at least five Indian players in the team. If Molina had gone with Mallo, he would’ve had to put an Indian in the midfield. It was probably a strategic decision. I’m inclined to trust Molina in his choice of goalkeeper simply because he was a keeper when he used to play. ATK were also without Pablo Gallardo and Ofentse Nato but put Sameehg Doutie (someone I wanted to see very much) into the middle. I was also excited about the combination of Hume and Postiga

I felt that Chennaiyin FC went with a defensive formation. Their formation looked like a 433/451 to me and it was understandable from Marco Materazzi. You see, Chennaiyin neither have Mendoza nor Elano – both of whom were their attacking lynchpins in the last two seasons. Duwayne Kerr was debuting for Chennaiyin. In central defence, Chennaiyin had two pillars of excellence in the form of Bernard Mendy and John Arne Riise. The question was who will start in the centre. My money was on David Succi with Jeje Lalpekhlua and Jayesh Rane on the wings.

Chennaiyin Penetrate More; Atletico De Kolkata Have Crisper Passes

atletico-de-kolkata-vs-chennaiyin-fc-ftThe first half began with Chennaiyin FC in the ascendancy. Their dominance was largely due to Atletico De Kolkata’s defensive strategy of high press. The problem for ATK was that Chennaiyin managed to play through their high press.

The issue was that Atletico De Kolkata weren’t pressing as a team. Their front line i.e. Hume and co was pushing but their defensive minded players weren’t pushing. Thus, Chennaiyin players were getting some joy with longer passes.

During this domination, Chennaiyin had the first and the best chance of the half to score. It came from a free kick that was taken by Hans Mulder. Mulder laid the ball off from the direct free kick to his left for a Riise wallop. The ball deflected off the wall, smacked against the underside of the crossbar, and bounced out.

The initial periods of the first half was typified by two things – the fact that Hume doesn’t age and the fact that Baljit Sahni likes to dive and con the referee. I’m sure that you can tell that I don’t condone the latter and respect the former.

Atletico De Kolkata, for some reason, didn’t produce as many chances as they should’ve despite the fact that their passing was crisper than Chennaiyin’s. This was probably because they didn’t use width enough even though their wing-play was really effective. By the latter part of the first half, the game devolved (or evolved depending upon your inclinations) into a midfield battle. Atletico De Kolkata’s best chance also came from a wickedly whipped free kick taken by Javier Lara Grande. It was a shot cum cross that gave Kerr some trouble.

Atletico De Kolkata Open Scoring

atletico-sameehg-doutieThe second half began with a glaring mistake from Bernard Mendy as he fell over while trying to stop Postiga. The mistake went unpunished, though, because Riise mopped up.

Riise’s free kick continued to cause trouble for Atletico De Kolkata as Debjit Majumdar was forced to flap away an acute in swinging free kick. The free kick was promptly followed by counter attack from Atletico where Lara was set up by Hume only for the latter to deliver a tame shot directly at Kerr.

Just when everyone started thinking that this would be a dead, dull, and dreary 0 – 0 draw, Doutie popped up with a goal. Postiga ran with the ball to the left of the centre circle, drew all the defenders and spread a lofted ball to the right at the feet of the onrushing Doutie. Doutie’s first touch to take the ball down was butter on a pan.

The beauty of the first touch allowed him the time to take a second and set the ball up for a nice one on one with the keeper. The one on one was a result of the left back, Nalappan Mohanraj, tucking in for the missing centre back. The real culprit for the goal, however, was Jayesh Rane who failed to support his left back. Needless to say, Doutie finished with aplomb at 59 minutes. Atletico De Kolkata 1 – 0 Chennaiyin FC

Chennaiyin Equalise; Promptly Take the Lead

Chennaiyin Jayesh RaneAtletico De Kolkata’s lead didn’t last for long, though. Chennaiyin FC equalised via the earlier culprit Jayesh Rane at 66 minutes. Rane made up for his mistake by breaking the offside trap and catching a scuffed shot from Jeje Lalpekhlua. Even though he was facing the keeper, there was still a lot to do. He did all that was required by controlling the ball and dinking it over the onrushing Majumdar. Atletico De Kolkata 1 – 1 Chennaiyin FC

Chennaiyin upped the ante four minutes later by taking the lead through a speculative shot that deflected into the net. Hans Mulder took the shot from well out. It didn’t even have enough power on it but it still deflected off Jose Luis Espinosa Arroyo or “Titi”, wrong-footed Majumdar and sneaked inside the post. Atletico De Kolkata 1 – 2 Chennaiyin FC

Atletico De Kolkata Get Loads of Chances; Convert One

atletico-iain-humeGoing a goal down, lit up a fire in Atletico players’ you know where. They fashioned a chance for Postiga only for their marquee player to direct his free header straight at Kerr from a Doutie free kick. Postiga’s chance was followed by a chance for Hume. Hume was found on the far post by a cross but he could only flash his shot on the wrong side of the far post.

Hume even got a second chance. This time it was an absolutely free header from the same position. He was so free that he got confused by it. He neither shot at the goal nor set up his partner in crime, Postiga. His cushioned header was too close to Kerr.

Dudu, who had come on earlier, was the one to get a clear cut chance next. He met a cross from the left flank at point blank range only to loop his shot over. It was a position from where it would’ve been easier to score. That miss would prove to be very costly for Chennaiyin as Atletico De Kolkata would equalise through a Hume penalty. The penalty was won by Doutie as he was bundled over in the box on 84 minutes by Jerry L’Rinzuala. Hume converted the penalty by putting it into the keeper’s right hand bottom corner. Atletico De Kolkata 2 – 2 Chennaiyin FC

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Chennaiyin FC vs. Atletico De Kolkata Review: CFC Degrades While ATK Upgrades

Chennaiyin FC vs. Atletico De Kolkata

Ok, let’s get the immaterial out of the way – the opening ceremony. Utter waste of time except the fact that it allowed us to see how much bigger the Indian Super League 2015 season is than the 2014 season. The opening ceremony was essentially the who’s who of the Indian celebrity circuit. This is all I’m willing to say of an event that I believe doesn’t deserve to turn into a tradition. But us commentators don’t matter because sponsors have to get their few minutes of fame.

Team News for Chennaiyin FC & Atletico De Kolkata

As for the game, there isn’t much backstory involved. Materazzi’s selection didn’t inspire me before the match much. The reason was that he chose Fikru and Jeje as his strike force. They were just too defensive.

I liked Atletico De Kolkata’s formation much more. Displaying an embarrassment of attacking riches, Habas the Henchman had Baljit Sahni, Iain Hume, and Helder Postiga in his line-up together. My early prediction was a win for ATK with CFC biting the dust, despite what the Star Sports experts said.

The Game Kicks Off With an Indian Twist

Chennaiyin FC - ElanoThe first chance fell to Jeje who had a free header from an Elano corner but he skewed it wide.

The corner, itself, was won by Elano’s dribbling skills. After that we had a reminder that the game was being played in India – a three legged dog decided to take a stroll on the Chennaiyin FC pitch.

What an embarrassment that was. Harmanjot Khabra received an unfair yellow card when the ball hit his arm.

He was obliviously jumping in the wall trying to block a freekick. Who won that freekick? Why, the pesky Hume of course.

Chennaiyin FC’s main weapon was, don’t be surprised, Elano. Elano looked incredibly sharp, fresh, and fit. He popped up all over the place to receive and release the ball in the likeliest of situations. It was obvious that Materazzi had given Elano a complete free role with no defensive responsibilities.

It was also clear that Atletico De Kolkata was struggling to keep a tab on Elano. Essentially, when a player floats like Elano was doing, the manager of the opposition needs to assign someone to manmark him because zonal systems don’t work in such situations.

Atletico De Kolkata Take the Lead Through a Double Agent

Chennaiyin FC - EdelThe first goal came in the 13th minute on the back of Edel’s howler. It was a simple enough floated freekick from ATK’s right side.

The ball should have been caught easily by Edel but he ran into his own player Mailson, fell on his bum, and dropped the ball right into the path of Helder Postiga.

He won’t get an easier goal than that all through the current season. Chennaiyin FC 0 – 1 Atletico De Kolkata

That was an appalling start for Edel who, if you remember, used to play for Atletico De Kolkata last year. Controversy theorists, would you please stand up and be counted with your creativity. Jokes apart though, that was a poor first goal of ISL2.

Fikru Can’t Score But He Does Contribute Nonetheless

Chennaiyin FC - FikruAfter that Fikru showed exactly why I don’t rate him much. He had an open shot created by Elano but he fluffed his lines and dragged his shot wide because he wanted to bang it in as opposed to placing it in. Fikru repeated the anti-skill a little while later in the 22nd minute. Granted, he was facing two defenders but he could’ve at least got a shot off.

Chennaiyin FC came back into the game on the stroke of the 31st minute. Chennaiyin FC were constantly winning freekicks for Elano to exploit, as is their way.

This one paid off. Elano dropped a wonderful ball over the head of Atletico’s left back with Fikru ghosting in behind him. The header was won by Fikru but deflected by the keeper. The ball bobbled to Jeje Lalpekhlua who made no mistakes. Chennaiyin FC 1 – 1 Atletico De Kolkata

In the 29th minute, Baljit Sahni received his customary yellow card by going too strong against an opponent. He could’ve never won that ball but he decided to jump against the wall. Sahni has a tendency to draw yellow cards left, right, and centre so it’s no surprise that he got one in his very first game.

Lara Announces His Presence With Some Delicious Skills in the Second Half

Atletico De Kolkata - Javier Lara GrandeDuring the half time, Marco Materazzi decided to bring on Bernard Mendy for Mailson. I can only assume that it was because of some form of injury. That was a forced substation, not a tactical one, although it could’ve been because Mendy does offer some attacking potential.

For a good 7 to 8 minutes nothing much happened in the game.

Maybe all the players were still having their tea! There were a couple beautiful moves between 52nd and 54th minutes led by Javier Lara Grande.

One was a nice give and go combined with beautiful step overs while the other was a gorgeous reverse pass. If Lara keeps that up, he could really make the Indian Super League 2015 entertaining.

In the 60th minute, Lara came to the fore again with a wonderful freekick. I am going to declare that this man will be very good this season. His freekick was left footed and came from the right side. It clipped the post with the keeper beaten.

John Stiven Mendoza Valencia came on in the 63rd minute. I was waiting for him to be thrown on. In fact, according to me, the game and Chennaiyin FC’s play specifically was screaming out for someone with the skills of Mendoza.

I liked how Chennaiyin FC were pressing the ball. It was calculated and careful, but still effective. They were pressing while simultaneously covering the possible passing lanes but it didn’t make a difference in the overall scheme of things.

Helder Postiga Shows Up Second Time

Atletico De Kolkata - Helder PostigaHelder Postiga made his second appearance in the game by stealing a headed back pass by Mendy.

The pass was short, Postiga stole in, took the ball wide, and finished low through the keeper’s legs. Two silly goals from Chennaiyin FC and score was Chennaiyin FC 1 – 2 Atletico De Kolkata.

In the process of swivelling and scoring, Postiga seemed to have injured himself.

Injuries caused by swivel type shots can be problematic. Postiga seemed to have been grabbing his hamstring.

This could be a long layoff for him which would create considerable problems for Atletico De Kolkata in the next few matches. Postiga was taken off for Valmiro Lopes Rocha (Valdo).

Valdo Puts The Game Beyond Reach

Atletico De Kolkata - Valmiro Lopes RochaValdo would put the match beyond Chennaiyin FC in the 76th minute with a header. A sumptuous cross came in from the left after a lovely bit of skill from Hume. The cross was met by Valdo on the stretch over the defender. He put the ball into the far corner to take the game beyond Chennaiyin FC. Remember, Valdo is a product of Real Madrid’s youth academy. Chennaiyin FC 1 – 3 Atletico De Kolkata.

Atletico De Kolkata received a penalty in the 78th minute because of Mendy’s deliberate handball in the box. Lara took the penalty and put the ball hard to Edel’s lower right, but the keeper made amends for his earlier mistake by saving it. The resulting corner didn’t amount to much.

Chennaiyin pushed on trying to claw their way back. Mendoza shot from the left to the lower right only for the keeper to save it. Materazzi, after that little bit, went all out by introducing Balwant Singh for, here’s a mouthful, Lalhmangaihsanga Ralte (Sena Ralte). This was followed by an ATK substitution where Sushil Kumar Singh came on for Baljit Sahni.

Referee Gets His 30 Seconds Of Fame

In the 88th minute, the referee went mad and gave a silly handball in favour of Chennaiyin FC. The ball didn’t even hit the defender, Arnab Mondal’s, hand. The referee needs to take a dip in his western commode if his judgement is going to be this flawed. The resulting penalty was converted well by Elano. Chennaiyin FC 2 – 3 Atletico De Kolkata.

That goal gave Chennaiyin FC an impetus because they really gave it their all in the last couple of minutes and the stoppage time.

Tactical Analysis:  First Impressions + Projections

Alright! That game deserved to be the opener for ISL2. A 3 – 2 scoreline deserves to be the opener for any league. I believe the game was won and lost on the whiteboard in the lockers under the bleachers.

Habas the Henchman is an experienced manager. He is so experienced that he has coached international games. Materazzi, on the other hand, is a great former player who is only into his second season. And, you know what, it showed.

Materazzi chose to respect his opponents too much. For some reason, he went with the diamond formation with Elano at the head of the midfield. Elano will never defend. In his bid to really utilise Elano, Materazzi forgot about controlling the midfield. He essentially had a midfield of three players. There was a serious lack of balance in Chennaiyin FC’s team sheet. I think the team would’ve been better served with a five man midfield as opposed to a three man midfield.

On top of this, Materazzi all but gifted the wings to his opponents by not picking wingers in his own team. In fact, I think all three goals came because of the wings being empty. The first was a freekick on the wing which may not have occurred if there was a winger in addition to a wingback. The second was a back pass which may not have been needed if there was someone on the wings to receive it. The third goal was a direct cross from the wings.

I liked how Atletico De Kolkata set out for this game. They had two defensive midfielders, one attacking midfielder, and two wingers with a single striker. On top of this, the front three attacking midfielders were interchanging well too. ATK had a five man midfield which is why they won this game.

Not only did I like Atletico De Kolkata in this game but I like what I see in general. I think ATK will continue to dominate the league. For Chennaiyin FC, my projection is that their Indian Super League 2015 season won’t be as good as their 2014 season was. Of course, a lot can change in the future but I don’t see many changes occurring with Chennaiyin FC.

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How Have the ISL Marquee Players Performed This Season – Part I

Luis Garcia, Atletico De Kolkata

The Champs Atletico De Kolkata and the ISL Finalists Kerala Blasters FC

ISL Marquee Players

Many More than just 8 ISL Marquee Players

Let me start with a few disclaimers. This will NOT be a short post. It will NOT be only about ‘ISL Marquee Players’. It will NOT be generic.

Now that that’s out of the way, let me explain what I meant. By saying that this will not be a short post, I mean that I will actually do some research into each player I am going to mention here. I plan to check stats and even some videos for this post.

By saying this this will not be only about ‘ISL Marquee Players’, I mean that I will go beyond the 8 player restriction that that official term triggers. I will expand that purview to include other players. How will I decide who gets to be researched? Well, that’s my prerogative. This means that I may leave out some players that you think deserved to be included. If you think I did, give me a shout.

By saying that it will not be generic, I mean that you shouldn’t expect this post to be like the generic crap that many ‘news websites’ (I call them link junkies) are churning out under the guise of ISL Marquee Player reviews.

I have shortlisted 17 individuals who, I believe, need to be treated as ISL Marquee Players and one surprise, which makes a total of 18 people. Naturally, since I can’t create a single long and winding post that never ends, I’ll be breaking this one down to smaller pieces. In this instalment, you get the two ISL finalists.

So, without further ado, let’s get down and dirty.

Atletico De Kolkata’s Luis Garcia

Luis Garcia, Atletico De Kolkata

Luis Garcia, Atletico De Kolkata

Kolkata’s Luis Garcia did what I call the intangibles. He wasn’t at the end of the good things that Kolkata did but he was neither negligible because he made his team tick. What I mean by intangibles is that what he did wasn’t directed at appearing in statistic tables.

He only provided two assists and scored twice, of which one was a penalty kick. He wasn’t the most prolific shooter and he didn’t even get the majority of his shots on target. With players like these, you need step outside the general view. You have to see them in action in real games. You have to see their indirect influence so to speak.

Luis Garcia’s influence on his team, while not exemplary, wasn’t negligible either. Every time he was on the pitch, I could see Kolkata’s passing quality becoming that much better. All you need to see Garcia’s value to his team is see the games in which he isn’t playing.

Kolkata’s attacks were more blunted and ineffectual without him. They simply lacked the guile that is needed to unlock defences. At the same time, he could’ve done more.

If you’ve seen Luis Garcia play at his peak then you would know that his biggest strengths were his agility and speed both of which are not available to him anymore. It is because of this reason that I’m not surprised with his underwhelming performance. I still had expected a little more.

Expected Rating**: 7.5 / 10

Final Rating: 6 / 10

I expected him to do more mainly because I hadn’t seen him for a long time and remembered his days in the Liverpool and Atletico De Madrid jerseys.

Atletico De Kolkata’s Borja Fernandez

Borja, Atletico De Kolkata

Borja, Atletico De Kolkata

I remember when I used to think that Borja Fernandez was a very good player. He had just broken through the Real Madrid first team then.

He ended up playing only 23 games for them over a period of 3 seasons. That was 2003, a period when I was easily wowed by football. Nowadays, I’m a little more jaded having seen the Invincibles which I believe was the epitome of football.

Borja was a mixed bag of a player in the last 3 months but I think he fit in perfectly with Kolkata’s philosophy. You most probably don’t know what I’m talking about because you haven’t seen the stats yet.

Borja was the best tackler in the league. He had the maximum number of tackles at 63. He was far ahead too because the second position is held by Denson Devadas of Chennaiyin FC with only 53.

However, answer me this. What happens when you have a player who is free with his tackles? Why, you get loads of fouls! That’s exactly what Borja did too. He was second in the Indian Super League with fouls committed at 36.

Who was he behind? His darling teammate Fikru Lemessa. How behind was he? By only 1 foul! So, the top two foulers in ISL were from Atletico De Kolkata. If you’ve been reading my reports, you’ll know that I’ve been castigating Atletico De Kolkata for their overly physical game. With these numbers I rest my case on that debate.

Expected Rating**: 6 / 10

Final Rating: 6.5 / 10

I didn’t think Borja would end up having the kind of influence that he did in the end but a lot of that is because of the way his team was setup. His team’s style of play and his style of play were perfectly complimentary which is why he turned in a better season than expected.

Kerala Blasters FC’s David James

David James, Kerala Blasters FC

David James, Kerala Blasters FC

You could say that David James is a legendary British keeper. He still holds the record for most clean sheets in the English Premier League and is 3rd in terms of all time appearances.

In the yellow of Kerala Blasters FC, despite his old age (he is 44 years old just in case you didn’t know), James still showed why he is a legend. It is unheard of for players to play up to 44 years, even if they’re keepers but James did and did a fair good job of it too.

James played 12 games for Kerala, an achievement in itself but kept the opposition from scoring in 5 of those games. Overall, he allowed 10 goals in at an average of less than a goal per game. Those are good numbers even if you don’t consider James’ age.

The best part about James, though, was his performance as a manager. Granted, Kerala Blasters FC struggled to score goals during the league phase of the ISL but the way that they turned up in the ISL semi final was a coaching master class from James.

Before the ISL semi finals, I said that James was being selfish as a coach by ensuring clean sheets and that he needs to open up his team a little more to score goals. That is exactly what happened in the ISL semi finals as Kerala Blasters blitzed Chennaiyin FC into a catatonic state. You could see the Chennaiyin players reeling on the ground at the Kerala Blasters onslaught.

I will always remember the way in which James turned around his team’s style. I’ve never seen such a drastic change made in such a small time with the same manager and players being available.

In the end, James, I think, did justice to his legend and may well be on his way to adding to that legend as a manager. I won’t be surprised if he gets a chance as a manager in England soon.

Expected Rating**: 6.5 / 10

Final Rating: 8 / 10

I expected James to do well as a goalkeeper but not as a manager. He was decent as a keeper but brilliant as a manager. Together, he exceeded my expectations!

Watch this space for More ISL Marquee Players’ Analyses

So, this was my analysis for my ISL marquee players from the two ISL finalists. Don’t sit back just yet because the next post will be an analysis of the ISL marquee players from the bottom dwellers of the league Mumbai City FC and Northeast United FC. Keep watching this space.

**Expected Rating: Rating I expected the player would get at the beginning of the league.

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ISL Final: Efficient Atletico De Kolkata Are the Deserved Champions

ISL Final - Kerala Blasters FC vs. Atletico De Kolkata

Ok, let’s begin with a confession. I’ve never bothered with opening and closing ceremonies and the way I’m doing I doubt I ever will. What I have a tendency never to miss though is finals. I sit here with a stiff drink and even stiffer chips on a very soft seat looking forward to watching the ISL Final.

In terms of team news, it seems that I was wrong about Kerala Blasters not having their 1st and 2nd choice keepers. David James chose to give himself what could be his last ever start in a professional football game.

Other new names in the Kerala Blasters starting line-up were Saumik Dey at left back and Nirmal Chettri at right back. Sandesh Jhingan moved into central defence.

Atletico De Kolkata had to endure a heavy blow before the game as Luis Garcia and Lester Fernandez wasn’t deemed fit enough to start the game. For those two, Arnal Llibert and Kingshuk Debnath came on.

Kerala Blasters Start More Positively

David James, Kerala Blasters FC

David James, Kerala Blasters FC

Unsurprisingly, Kerala Blasters were the more attacking of the two teams even though Atletico De Kolkata started in their 4 – 4 – 2 formation.

Both teams were set up to be attacking but it was really Kerala who looked more comfortable in the opponent’s final third.

Within the first 10 minutes, the most interesting part of the game was that David James wasn’t moving as freely as you would expect him too.

He was moving gingerly and was being very careful with his clearances. I wondered if that would be something that would end up causing problems for Kerala Blasters especially if the ISL Final was to go to penalties.

Two Great Chances – Two Great Examples of Good Defending

Victor Herrero Forcada, Atletico De Kolkata

Victor Herrero Forcada (Polga), Atletico De Kolkata

What was clicking for Kerala Blasters, though, was their attack. In the 11th minute, Victor Herrero Forcada (Pulga) created good space for himself in the 18 yard box.

He got a shot off but it was blocked off. Ishfaq Ahmed was right behind Pulga by creating a wonderful opportunity of his own from outside the box.

He tried for the near post after beating 3 Kolkata players but Apoula Edel proved a match for his shot.

Referee under the Spotlight

Nirmal Chettri, Kerala Blasters FC

Nirmal Chettri, Kerala Blasters FC

In the 25th minute, Atletico De Kolkata showed what they’re capable of. Their midfield set Mohammed Rafi free in the middle of the pitch who showed great skill to control the ball.

However, he couldn’t be the man to win the ISL Final for his team because Chettri came in and fouled him clumsily. It could’ve been a red card but the referee chose a yellow card instead.

I wasn’t entirely sure which card it should’ve been because there were other defenders in line but not ahead. So that was one where interpretation of the rules comes into play.

Atletico De Kolkata and Kerala Blasters Exchange Blows

Iain Hume, Kerala Blasters FC

Iain Hume, Kerala Blasters FC

Atletico De Kolkata’s best chance came as a twin. The ball was crossed from deep on the right flank and Rafi got to the ball too but James had positioned himself flawlessly.

This was followed by a long range shot from Jakub Podany (Pody) towards the near post which James saved too.

Iain Hume came up with a brilliant freekick in the 39th minute. His shot went up and over the wall and towards Edel’s right corner. Fortunately, Edel read the shot and managed to palm it for a corner.

After those chances, the ISL Final became scrappy with both teams giving the ball away in quick succession. That’s how everyone went into the half time break.

Exchange of Blows Continues In the Second Half

Apoula Edel, Atletico De Kolkata

Apoula Edel, Atletico De Kolkata

Atletico De Kolkata started the second half on the front foot. Their aggression seemed to have surprised Kerala Blasters because they got pegged back and made some unforced errors.

However, they recovered very quickly and very effectively. Michael Chopra was set free at an acute angle in Kolkata box and got a ferocious shot off towards the top corner.

However, Edel again stood strong and unconventionally chose to punch it away with one hand.

Kerala Blasters Attack; Atletico De Kolkata Counter

Sandesh Jhingan, Kerala Blasters FC

Sandesh Jhingan, Kerala Blasters FC

Normal service resumed after that as Kerala Blasters continued to dominate. Hume was set free to run at the keeper but I believe his age caught up with him before he could reach Edel. Once the one on one evaporated, there wasn’t much he could do.

However, Kerala Blasters continued to attack looking for that elusive goal while Atletico De Kolkata courted it in the way of counters. On one of those counters, Sandesh Jhingan almost scored another own goal.

Another counter resulted in Arnal being free from an acute angle. Still, he had James on a one on one but couldn’t even work him. His shot went high and wide and James stood there unruffled.

The Red Zone of Fatigue and Mistakes Begins

Michael Chopra, Kerala Blasters FC

Michael Chopra, Kerala Blasters FC

After that flurry of attacks, as fatigue set in, the game became slower after the 60th minute. I believe that it wasn’t just fatigue but also mental jitters of playing in the ISL Final that kept the players from playing freely. They simply became safer and safer as the clock ticked on.

The best chance for Kerala Blasters came in the 79th minute. Kerala Blasters showed some deft interplay and understanding and created a chance for Chopra just inside the box. Chopra received the ball in the centre and passed it to his left to Stephen Pearson. Pearson returned the ball to Chopra inside the box but Chopra’s shot was too tame.

Neither Chopra nor Hume looked tired in the 83rd minute though. Hume rand free on his team’s left flank and cross but his cross was deflected. The ball fell to Chopra who first fought hard and then bedazzled the defender to get his shot off.

He didn’t consider Edel in his equation, though, because Edel pulled off what could’ve been the save of the whole season. The shot was almost point blank. At the same time, Edel managed to somehow palm the ball away onto the post. The ball glanced off the post and went out for a corner.

The ISL Final Winning Goal

Mohammed Rafique, Atletico De Kolkata

Mohammed Rafique, Atletico De Kolkata

After almost 93 minutes of waiting, the ISL Final winning goal finally came from the unlikeliest of sources and the unlikeliest of teams. Mohammed Rafique was the scorer and Atletico De Kolkata were the winner.

I believe the corner was taken by Polga. The corner came from Atletico De Kolkata’s left side and the shortest players on the pitch at that time rose tall and proud to head the ball into the bottom corner on James’ right side.

James dived full stretch but even the legendary James couldn’t have done anything to save that header.

The Mecca of Indian Football Gets the First Indian Super League Trophy

Antonio Lopez Habas, ISL Final Winning Head Coach

Antonio Lopez Habas, ISL Final Winning Head Coach

The funniest thing was that the goal came right at death. There were 3 minutes added by the referee and the goal came when the 93 minutes had already gone by. Rafique just headed himself into the history books with the first goal in the ISL final.

Kerala Blasters looked unbelievably dejected. I didn’t think it would’ve mattered to them so much to win the final. One of the most disappointed players on the pitch was James. He actually went and sat at the bench for a good 15 minutes staring into space.

Colin Falvey had tears in his eyes as did Jhingan and other Kerala Blasters players. Sachin Tendulkar actually came onto the pitch to console his players. He’s a part owner of Kerala Blasters, in case you didn’t know.

The most heartening part of the game was that when the final whistle was blown, Atletico De Kolkata players celebrated for a minute or two and then went to the Kerala Blasters players. You could see them consoling their opponents in the most sporting manner I have ever seen.

Atletico De Kolkata may not play the most beautiful football in the league but they do play it in the most effective way. I may not like their intimidation and physical tactics but today they showed empathy and heart when they went to console their opponents after winning the game. It was good to see and must be appreciated.

The champions of the Indian Super League needed to be special. In the ISL Final, Atletico De Kolkata showed why they are special. I tip my hat to you good sirs. They deserve the win.

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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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