The third season of the Indian Super League has been one of the best displays of a topsy-turvy league journey. While every team has almost played 11-12 matches, all of them are still in contention to reach the knockout stages. Delhi Dynamos FC and Mumbai City FC have arguably been the better teams, but have had their moments of weaknesses and anxious displays on the pitch.
While the games have been more competitive than usual, the displays on the pitch have been far more tactical than in previous seasons. While Delhi have played a brilliant possession based game, Kerala Blasters and NorthEast United FC have looked to hit the opposition on the counter.
After odd-50 matches, here, we take a look at the five most inspiring substitutions made by coaches which changed the complexion of the game.
#1 Eugeneson Lyngdoh vs Mumbai City FC
It was an interesting build-up already. With Sunil Chhetri starting in the opposing line-up for Mumbai City FC, Eugeneson had to have some effect on the game, but was kept on the bench when the game started. While the attacking intent in the team was clear, it was quite clearly visible that both sides were looking for the much-needed attacking breakthrough.
The first half ended goalless. Eugeneson was introduced on the pitch in the 46th minute, coming in place of Dramane Traore. The Indian international played the No. 10 role for Antonio Lopez Habas, who clearly showcased his belief in Eugeneson’s quality. With Lyngdoh on the pitch, FC Pune City started looking like the slightly better side, with a little more creativity and cutting edge, but still, the finishing was not just happening for the away side.
Albino Gomes, Mumbai City FC’s goalkeeper made an absolute mess of a high delivery, which fell into the path of Lyngdoh, who powerfully finished in it the top-center of the net. While the goal cannot be called astonishing, it did give the visitors bragging rights over the much-talked about Maharashtra derby.
Joining the team after Bengaluru FC’s recent AFC Cup final, Sunil and Eugeneson were expected to call the dimes for this match, and Eugeneson, coming off from the bench, won it over his I-League club and National captain.
#2 Badara Badji vs Mumbai City FC
Delhi Dynamos FC had started their season well, defeating defending champions Chennaiyin FC away 3-1. Playing an attacking brand of football with possession and slick passing, the Gianluca Zambrotta-coached side faced Mumbai City FC for their first home game on 18th October.
Playing a tactically changed side, Delhi Dynamos could not get their finishing right in the first half. Krisztian Vadocz, the Hungarian central midfielder, made most of the error-prone Delhi defence, which was in its early days. Vadocz punished the home team with two goals in the first half, dismantling them completely.
While Mumbai went down the tunnel dominating the score-sheet, Delhi Dynamos coach Gianluca Zambrotta had other plans. Zambrotta threw in Senegalese striker Badara Badji in place of Brazilian midfielder Memo, giving his team the much needed extra intensity in attack. While Delhi had fought back to 2-1 with a Richard Gadze goal, Sony Norde was still firing on all cylinders for the visitors, making a comeback for the home team unlikely.
The introduction of Badji, though, changed the situation altogether. Mumbai played Anwar Ali and Lucian Goian at the back and thus it was difficult for the diminutive Richard Gadze to operate in or around the box. With Badji’s presence, Gadze, Malouda and Marcelinho looked different. The troika played in between the lines and supported the striker well, who was willing to give his all for the side.
Against the run of play but with a brilliant move, Haitian Mohun Bagan star Sony Norde made it 3-1, making it look impossible for the home team to return. However, there was still some fightback left in the home team. The audience saw brilliant attacking intent from the Dynamos then with Badji scoring in the 76th minute and winning a penalty, which was duly converted by Brazilian winger Marcelinho, taking the score to 3-3.
The match has been touted by many as one of the best in the history of the Indian Super League and the attacking waves caused by the Delhi side in the second half was brilliant football on display.
#3 Helder Postiga vs NorthEast United FC
Helder Postiga is a magician, and very few would deny that. Having made his debut last season with two brilliant goals, before he picked up an injury, the Portuguese marquee player decided to give the Indian Super League another go.
Postiga started the league well, contributing in his team’s draw against Chennaiyin FC and victory over the Kerala Blasters. After a minor injury sabbatical, Postiga had joined the side and was looking for that breakthrough match to get his form back, and it came against NorthEast Untied away at Guwahati. Postiga did not start the game, and NorthEast United’s Uruguayan striker Emiliano Alfaro had already given the home team a 1-0 lead.
As the game re-started, Jose Molina threw in his wildcard, his marquee player, Helder Postiga. Postiga came in for Sameegh Doutie, who had done a lot of running but had been ineffective. Postiga gave the away team the much-needed calmness on the pitch, controlling proceedings just behind Javi Lara and Juan Belencoso. The Portuguese started weaving his magic in the 63rd minute, scoring from a brilliant cross from Lalrindika Ralte to open the flood-gates.
While the game was level, the attacking and winning intent was clear on the pitch from the visitors. ATK was building attacks after attacks, with Postiga at the heart of every chance created. In the 81st minute, the former Portuguese striker cut in from the left and played a delightful ball to Spanish striker Juan Belencoso, who had to just tap in from three yards.
The striker did not make a mistake and Kolkata got the three points they thoroughly deserved, much to the brilliance of the 46th-minute substitute Helder Postiga.
#4 David Addy vs Atletico de Kolkata
David Addy has had a stop-start campaign for the Delhi Dynamos this season. The former FC Porto left-back has been a regular from the bench, filling in the defence for the capital side often. Having played four games till date, David Addy would have a moment to remember after his introduction in the game against Atletico de Kolkata.
The Jose Molina-team had defeated the league leaders in the first leg, via an Iain Hume penalty. Playing at a brilliant tempo, the away side scored in the 17th minute, with Iain Hume again hitting the first nail in the coffin. With ATK being the better team throughout in the first half and some sloppy defending from the Delhi side, Zambrotta had a task at hand to ensure his team doesn’t lose and have a psychological disadvantage against the red-and-white striped team.
Going into the tunnel 1-0 down, the home side looked jaded with three of their first team regulars either on bench or out with injury. At half-time, Zambrotta played a wildcard in the form of Addy, moving Kim Kima to centre-back with Anas. Kim has been a little shaky throughout the tournament and the move could’ve backfired.
Luckily and tactically, it didn’t. Reading the game to the hilt, Zambrotta knew the presence of Borja in the middle would not give much space to operate, and thus, he wanted Addy to control proceedings from the left. The Ghanaian defender did not disappoint his gaffer. Making a lot of attacking runs, the full-back executed his role perfectly, creating panic in the ATK half.
While Milan Singh scored with a stunner in the 63rd minute after a 61st-minute penalty miss from captain Malouda, it was clear that the team had come in for a fight. Javi Lara scored a brilliant goal in the 71st minute for the visitors, restoring their lead by a goal.
Addy, who had been very influential but had nothing on the stats by now, picked out lone striker Malouda in the box in the 73rd minute from the left wing. The Frenchman did not make any mistake, and scored after a poor mistake from the ATK defence.
While the score remained 2-2 at the final whistle, Zambrotta re-iterated the importance of the single point his team got. Losing to the same rivals can be frustrating and psychologically killing in long tournaments, and such fightbacks are sure to help the team’s morale.
#5 CK Vineeth vs FC Goa
Bengaluru FC had played the AFC Cup final on 6th Nov and CK Vineeth had started for the Blues. The winger-cum-striker joined his ISL team on 9th of November, the day his team faced FC Goa. Joining the team and creating one of its most inspiring stories on the same day was something even Vineeth wouldn’t have imagined, let alone others.
The Indian striker was brought on in the 78th minute, to create some effect from the bench. The match was tied at 1-1, with both teams trying to get the ball in the back of the opposition net. While the game was set for an exciting finish, no one expected it to be from this man.
With Rafael Coelho scoring for the Gaurs in the 9th minute and Belfort scoring for the Blasters in the 48th minute, there was no lack of attacking intent from both the sides. The bad-bloodied nature of the game was on display too, with FC Goa players seen getting into verbal duels with the referee at various instances during the game.
With the game played in a feisty manner, in came the striker in place of Mohammed Rafique. With FC Goa already a man down, the sending off of Richarlyson in the 81st minute opened the floodgates. The away team was playing with 9 men but fought like valiant warriors. With Zico controlling proceedings from the touchline and a lot of drama, the injury time given was 7 minutes!
While the game stretched to nine minutes with more drama, Kerala won a corner which was expected to be the last kick of the game. The ball came in, a melee happened, and out of nowhere, Vineeth scored. FC Goa players completely directed their anger at the referee, and lots of controversies followed the game. Zico made remarks against the referee, questioning his credentials and honesty.
While this game would go down in ISL’s history for Zico’s direct attacks at the referee, it would also be remembered for its dramatic game-play and Vineeth’s journey from joining the team in the afternoon and becoming their hero by the evening.
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