Sensational last minute goal gives Atletico de Kolkata 1-0 victory and maiden ISL title
In many ways, when Kerala Blasters sit to review the final of the Indian Super League (ISL) they will perhaps grudgingly acknowledge the fact that Kolkata did absorb the pressure better and pulled off a stunner in the dying minutes of the game to clinch the title.
There has been a lot of debate in the recent past about the success of the ISL and what it means for Indian football. Editorials, blogs, articles and a whole lot more has been dedicated to discuss the pros and cons of the same. But everything aside no one could deny the fact that the finals of the Indian Super League, was an event that had been awaited for a while now.
The reasons behind being many fold. First it was the maiden final for the league. Second, in a short span of time, (two and a half months to be precise) it has garnered a loyal fan following, team loyalties and a huge fan base amongst others. Something that was alien to Indian football despite its historic roots and best of efforts.
Something similar was the case of the final of the maiden edition of the ISL that was played at the DY Patil stadium, betweeen Atletico de Kolkata and Kerala Blasters. In fact such was the hype generated prior to the game, that a good amount of time and space was dedicated on social media, describing the battle between the two as one between the owners, Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar respectively.
Nevertheless there was no denial that the game which was being played in front of a packed audience in Mumbai would be one that would keep fans of Indian football jostling at the edge of their seats.
A battle of attrition
Ironically though despite the fanfare, and the hype as well as the build up the game itself was a dull affair rarely mimicing the effect that football finals have. If one goes on to compare the game, stark comparision could be drawn between the game and the 1995 Rugby World cup final between the Springboks and the All Blacks.
Even though the game was a high intensity one, there were rarely signs of the same. The battles in the first half were mainly dominated in the mid-field, by both the teams, with the custodians from either sides being called into play to make the occasional save from the occasional free kick that was conceded away loosely during the course of the game.
While Kerala opted for the 4-1-3-2 formation playing two strikers up front in Hume and Chopra, Kolkata chose a more traditional 4-2-3-1 formation up front to tackle the threat of their opponents. The first half belonged to the midfield, with Hume and Chopra trying to neutralise the attacks from the other end. Comparitively it was Kerala which had the upper hand in the same, with 52 percent of the passing belonging to them against the 48 of Kolkata.
Going into the break, with a packed stadium creating a din as memorable as the 'lion's roar' from the 1999 Champions League Final between Manchester United and Bayern Munich, both the teams did think that they were in with a chance of winning the maiden title of the ISL with a lot of the supporters as well as the in house commentators tipping the balance finely in the favour of Kolkata.
But as it has been displayed time and again, football across the globe, is a funny game. It has the ability to break hearts and send audiences into a celebrating frenzy within seconds, that was also the case to be for the final. Although not until the very end for Kolkata.
Edel saves Kolkata’s skin several times
The second half began from where the first half left. That being Kerala attacking from the two flanks and Kolkata awkwardly clearing the ball. It would be incomplete without a special mention for the Kolkata custodian Edel. Having showed time and again why a good custodian is such an indispensable asset for any team, he continued to make saves, some flying across the goal mouth and some deftly with his legs to deny Kerala the elusive goal.
Michael Chopra, who was playing up front with Hume displayed why, in hindsight, Kerala were edged out by Kolkata in the final. While it was a flying Edel who denied him a goal in the first half, there were clear chances in the second for which he has only himself to blame.
The first of which came in the 67th minute when a brilliant run by Hume saw him tackle the Kolkata back line, and pass a fine ball in to Chopra. Rather than doing justice to the pas by completing the goal, he managed to shoot straight into the hands of a diving Edel.
But if that error was forgivable the one in the 84th minute wasn't. Chopra managed to pry the ball out in front of the Kolkata goalmouth from three defenders, endured a scuffle before recovering the ball in front of Edel. With barely three paces separating the two he still managed to shoot it right into the hands of a waiting Kolkata custodian, who furiously rallied his defence showing them how close they had come to going a goal behind.
ISL 2014 finishes in the most sensational manner possible
If memories of the CL from 1999 come flooding back it is because of what happened in the dying minutes of the game. With the game poised to go into extra time, and the clock showing three minutes of injury time, Pody put in a brilliant cross towards the post, which was met by the substitute Mohammed Rafique who headed it in into the left bottom corner.
It is almost reminiscent of the second goal between Manchester United and Bayern Munich, where David Beckham swung in the ball form the corner only to meet the toe of Ole Solskjaer who poked it into the Bayern net.
Such was the magnitude of the goal that Rafique scored that the Kerala players were unable to believe that they had lost a game which they had dominated throughout. On the other hand a rickety Kolkata team without Fikru and Garcia, snatched an unlikely goal and victory after having been on the receiving end of the attacks throughout the game.
Perhaps the most memorable moment of the game would be seeing the young Rafique, who almost pulled off his shirt to celebrate only to stop midway remembering his yellow card from the 88th minute. There were no shirt removing antics from Sourav Ganguly either, for anyone who had bet on seeing him do that.
In hindsight, lady luck did smile on Antonio Lopez's men but she certainly did take her own sweet 90 minutes to do that.