ISL Final: Two contrasting fairy-tales cross paths in pursuit of history
- By the time the final culminates, one team would've created history by becoming the first side to lift the ISL title thrice.
Over the past couple of months, the Indian Super League has ebbed and flowed, meaning that several teams have cast themselves in contention for the title before failing to deliver on the promise.
To put things into perspective, across December and January, Mumbai City FC and Odisha FC seemed the most likely outfits to join the likes of ATK, Bengaluru FC and FC Goa in the final four.
However, akin to the topsy-turvy nature of the league, the Juggernauts and the Islanders wilted when push came to shove, thereby leaving the back door open for a few teams to barge through and fashion a play-off slot of their own.
Yet, at the turn of the year, despite the inconsistencies of the aforementioned outfits, none would’ve predicted, let alone believe that Chennaiyin FC, a side that had been in utter turmoil till November 2019, would somehow enroll itself for the top four race.
Post that though, courtesy the most remarkable of runs, the Marina Machans found themselves in a position to not just stake a claim for a spot in the play-offs but also ruin the parties of those around them.
Consequently, Chennaiyin FC, chasing the most improbable of turnarounds, travelled to Mumbai with a semi-final berth in the offing. And, in sync with their stupendous form, they blazed their way past the Islanders, meaning that FC Goa represented the only obstacle between them and an unlikely appearance in the summit clash of the 2019-20 ISL.
And, once the Marina Machans had navigated past the threat of the Gaurs, one couldn’t help but wonder the peaks they could yet scale to add another layer of accomplishment to an already incredible campaign.
However, on the eve of the encounter against ATK, Owen Coyle was wary of delving too deep into those narratives, stating that the club needed to continue generating the head of steam and not relent.
We need to be at our best and we have confidence that if we can be at our best, we will be a match for any team in the league. The important thing is to concentrate on what we do and bring our very best. When we come off the field, we should not have regrets.
However, that task wouldn’t particularly be easy, considering the Marina Machans would be up against the irresistible attacking duo of David Williams and Roy Krishna, forwards who have single handedly dragged ATK over the line, especially in times of strife. On that particular challenge, Coyle quipped,
Both of them are top-class players and we know what they bring to the table. Obviously, all the teams in the league are strong up front because of the money that they’ve invested and I feel it would be a great challenge against Krishna and Williams.
ATK, on the other hand, have not endured as many crests and troughs as Chennaiyin FC over the course of the season and have rather serenely made their way into the ISL final.
The Kolkata-based outfit began the season brightly and though they endured a sticky patch in between, they ensured that those facets didn’t come to haunt them in the knock-out phase, wherein they produced a sensational comeback to get the better of Bengaluru FC.
In fact, the second leg at the Salt Lake Stadium represented the first time ATK had come from behind to emerge victorious in the current season, something Antonio Habas expected his side to draw inspiration from, especially if a similar situation were to surface on Saturday.
We always wanted to create a good atmosphere in the dressing room and in training. And, eventually, that has translated onto the pitch into good performances. Tomorrow is the final and players don’t play in such matches often. We must enjoy the game.
Having said that though, Habas was quick to stress that the final could only be won if ATK concentrated on the present.
Tomorrow is going to be a very special match. We need to enjoy it. However, we must not look into the past too much and concentrate on the present. Football is about the here and now and we must adhere to it.
Apart from the above, the contest would also pit two immensely adroit attacks against each other, with ATK and Chennaiyin FC having scored 36 and 38 goals respectively, throughout the season.
Furthermore, Habas boasts the opportunity to become the first manager in the ISL to lay his hands on the trophy twice whereas a triumph would signal the first outright title for his counterpart in his distinguished managerial career.
Thus, hours before the titanic tussle, both sides had outlined their recipes of success and had underlined the aspects they felt would act as the decisive tilting scales in an encounter that could well be decided on extremely fine margins.
Or, as has been the case with a plethora of finals, the outcome could hinge upon the sole metric of how the players handle the situation and if they are able to play their brand of football, rather than getting sucked into the occasion.
More importantly, the myriad sub-plots had intricately weaved themselves into the contest, meaning that the normal yardsticks for success could well come unstuck at the final hurdle.
At this point though, the glittering ISL trophy, which has already had ATK and Chennaiyin FC’s name etched onto it twice previously, seems up for grabs, thereby allowing either to catapult the other on its pursuit to an unparalleled place in Indian footballing folklore.
And, that, one reckons should act as the primary motivation, even when there isn’t a dearth of other compelling story-lines.
Published 13 Mar 2020, 19:22 IST