Atletico de Kolkata continued their unbeaten run in the second season of the Indian Super League as they defeated Kerala Blasters 2-1 at their opening home game of this season. The Salt Lake Stadium had approximately 62,000 fans packed in. The biggest attraction pre-match was football legend Pele, with spectators doing their best to try and catch a glimpse of the Brazilian.
Early goals in each half helped Atletico de Kolkata establish a commanding lead. The Blasters tried their best to come back into the match and were able to pull one goal back through Chris Dagnall but the equaliser eluded them.
Atletico de Kolkata XI: Calatayud (GK), Denzil Franco, Josemi, Augustin Fernandes, Mohan, Borja Fernandez (C), Jaime Gavilan, Nadong Bhutia, Javi Lara, Arata Izumi, Iain Hume
Kerala Blasters XI: Stephen Bywater (GK), Rahul Bheke, Gurwinder, Peter Ramage (C), Bruno Perone, Saumik, Shankar Sampingiraj, Mehtab Hossain, Josu, Chris Dagnall, Sanchez Watt
First half: Atletico dominate Kerala and take lead
Atletico de Kolkata started the game aggressively, and former Eibar midfielder Javi Lara came close to scoring inside five minutes with his shot hitting the woodwork from 30 yards out. Soon, former Kerala Blasters star Iain Hume had a shot on target, and saw his shot saved by Bywater.
However, Japanese-born Indian footballer Arata Izumi made no mistake in putting the rebound inside the net in the 6th minute to give the defending champions the lead. He now has two goals in two games, with him scoring in the last game against FC Goa too.
Kerala Blasters had some more early disappointment in store as Gurwinder Singh was injured in the 8th minute, and Ramandeep was brought on to replace him. The away side had no real effort on goal in the opening 30 minutes of the game, with the home side creating more chances with Iain Hume and debutant Nadong Bhutia combining well to cause troubles for the Kerala Blasters defense.
Just after the half hour mark, former Arsenal man Sanchez Watt fancied his chance from oustide the box, but it was too easy for Kolkata goalkeeper Juan Calatayud to collect. Soon, Javi Lara won the possession in the midfield but overlooked Arata Izumi's run on the left flank, and decided to have an effort from outside the box, which sailed harmlessly over the crossbar.
Mehtab Hossain also had a crack from long distance, with his shot troubling Calatayud and the goalkeeper had to come out of the box to send it out of play after making an initial save. Just before the break, Mohanraj Nallapan's defensive error allowed Bheke to burst forward into the Atletico de Kolkata penalty box, but his low cross was just a yard away from Chris Dagnall.
Half-time: Atletico de Kolkata 1-0 Kerala Blasters
Second half: Kerala mount late comeback but not enough to get a draw
Ramandeep Singh got the first yellow card of the game in the second half after he brought down Arata Izumi. Atletico de Kolkata started the second half brightly, with Javi Lara doubling their lead in the 52nd minute. Iain hume and Javi Lara combined well, with Lara's shot from outside the box taking a slight deflection of Peter Ramage into the back of the net.
Atletico made their first change in the 57th minute with Izumi coming off for Clifford Miranda. The home side remained very organised and hardly gave Kerala Blasters attackers any chance in the first hour of the game.
Mehtab Hossain was booked in the 63rd minute, after he brought down Iain Hume close to the half-line. The home side made their second change in the 77th minute with Antonio Habas bringing on Sushil Singh for Nadong Bhutia, who had a quiet game after starting off brillliantly.
Kerala Blasters finally showed some fight in the 79th minute, after a sublime cross from Peter Ramage was met by Chris Dagnall, and he fired it in to make it 2-1. Former Arsenal man Sanchez Watt almost made it 2-2 just seconds later, but he was denied by Atletico's goalkeeper Juan Calatayud.
Kerala started to find their rhythm in the dying moments of the game, but just couldn't find the equalizer. Hossain was sent off in the 89th minute for receiving a second yellow card as he fouled Valdo to stop a breakaway attack. The Blasters had the last chance of the game, with Dagnall's shot from inside the penalty box saved by Calatayud yet again.
Following this win, Atletico move up to the top of the ISL table with 7 points from 3 games while Kerala have 4 points from their 3 games. Kolkata will next face Pune away from home while Kerala will travel to the national capital to face the Dynamos.