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ISL 2016: A tale of two halves, NorthEast United 1-2 Atletico de Kolkata

Two halves of the match saw the domination of two different teams, and ultimately the better team had the last laugh.

Atletico de Kolkata
Atletico de Kolkata climbed to the top of the ISL table (Images courtesy: ISL)

It wasn’t particularly a night that Nelo Vingada would like to remember. His team was exceptionally brilliant in the first half; but come the second 45 minutes, he literally saw the game slipping out of his hands. The introduction of Atletico Kolkata marquee player Helder Postiga made a game-changing effectde as NorthEast United succumbed to a 1-2 defeat from a position where they were leading.

Battle of marquee players

Helder Postiga
Helder Postiga (L) scored the equaliser for the away side (Images courtesy: ISL)

The second half saw an intense battle between the marquee players of both the teams. As pointed out by NEUFC coach Vingada, Portuguese Helder Positga was ‘pure class’ and definitely the game changer. As for NorthEast, Didier Zokora has been their game maker. He has been taking care of the backline very well and in the first half, did not at all let it get it out of shape.

In the post-match press conference, Vingada said that he asked one of his players to mark Postiga, but he turned out to be too fast. Was he referring to Didier Zokora? Well, the equaliser scored by the Kolkata was purely a battle between Zokora and Postiga. The brilliant cross by Lalrindika Ralte pushed Postiga and Zokora into an aerial duel and we all know who got better of whom.

Kolkata’s equaliser was the beginning of the fall. It took no time for the NEUFC defence to get out of shape, unlike the first half. In a bid to contain Postiga, they constantly left other players unmarked and ultimately conceded the second goal.

The first half

As mentioned earlier, it was a completely different tale in the first half. NorthEast without playing with their regulars Nicolas Velez and Romaric did not let the pressure to sneak in and started the game with a very high tempo. In the absence of Velez, Japanese Katsumi Yusa had more space to play and he exploited this really well and crafted a lot of chances. Alfaro again did what he usually does, not exactly as a false 9, but tried piercing through the opposition defence, and he did so when he scored the first goal.

The only player who was probably unimpressive for the home team was Japanese-Irish, Robert Cullen. Cullen, who was handed his first start by the coach, was visibly slow. But we cannot blame him much as it takes time to get set in a team. Coach Nelo, in fact, defended him in the press conference as said, “Cullen played better than what I expected of him.”

The absence of one member of the trio was not at all visible for the Highlanders, but in the second half, NorthEast’s attack, for at least one quarter, definitely lacked teeth and the coach must have missed the game of Nicolas Velez.

The boy with the golden crosses, Lalrindika Ralte

Ralte.
Ralte was exceptional for the away side (Images courtesy: ISL)

24-year-old Lalrindika Ralte had two assists to his name against NorthEast. The Mizo attacking midfielder was electric on the field as he crafted both the goals with sheer pace and precision. In fact, both the wingers, Javier Lara on the right and Ralte on the left created quite a few headaches for NorthEast.

Zokora and Lazzaretti were the centre-backs, leaving the left and the right flanks to the Indian duo of Nirmal Chettri and Robin Gurung. And of the duo, Gurung particularly did not have a great night.

NorthEast’s lost chances

As if the defensive woes were not enough, NorthEast United lost out on a lot of opportunities to score in the later part of the second half. Holicharan missed an open goal, Katsumi overshot; Alfaro missed a brilliant set piece taken by Katsumi and many more. NorthEast’s inability to finish is seriously hurting them as this becomes the second match in which their coach said that the match could have well finished in a draw.

Another misfortune for them was the injury of Subrata Paul. Right from the match against Delhi Dynamos, Paul looked to be in pain, especially in the groin area. Against Kolkata, that aggravated severely and he had to be substituted.

With Rehenesh not available, Nelo had no option but to bring in Brazilian goalkeeper Wellington De Lima. This meant that NorthEast had to take one foreigner out and Robert Cullen it was. Nelo Vindaga made a defensive substitution with Reagan Singh replacing forward Cullen and that did change the equation of the game.

From six games on the bench to post, it wasn’t easy for Lima to adjust to the pressure of guarding the post. It takes time to adapt to the defence line and in the due process, he fumbled quite a few times, and eventually conceded a goal.

As for Kolkata, they would be very happy as to how things shaped up in the second half. They dominated every aspect of the game, from possession to shots on targets including fouls. They, for now, are happy, sitting on top of the points table.

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