When you face a highly motivated team of eleven players and a 68,000+ crowd of spirited fans, enduring the ninety minutes seem daunting. Chennaiyin FC had left a mountain to climb for Atletico de Kolkata in the first leg where they blanked the champions 3-0. But, in the reverse fixture, Salt Lake Stadium played the perfect host as the supporters thronged the venue and made themselves heard like never before.
The home side won the match 2-1 but got knocked out 2-4 on aggregate.
Atletico de Kolkata had an uphill task but they did not cower into the pressure and took the bull by its horn. With a depleted squad, coach Antonio Habas had his task cut out once again. He fielded the same side which finished the away leg at Pune. N Mohanraj was the only change who had to slot in the left back as Augustine Fernandez was manning the defensive midfield area.
The home side started with an all out attack as they rattled the visitors’ nerves frequently. Chennaiyin FC hardly saw the ball as Kolkata were on the offense from the word ‘go’. With the audience searing the decibel levels, the away side was stripped off any complacency. They were outplayed, outdone but could not be outweighed as the 3-0 loss proved too much to neutralize for the red and whites.
The persistent pressing yielded the result in the 22nd minute as Dejan Lekic scored to make it 1-0. The team from Tamil Nadu displayed a veritable effort to waste time from the start. But the valiance of Iain Hume and Co. did not allow them to rest.
Atletico de Kolkata wreaked havoc in front of the Chennai goal, but Edel Bete stood tall and replicated his form from last year. A string of saves from the Armenian kept his side in the game and eventually enabled them to progress to the finals. The shot-stopper was deservedly adjudged the man of the match for the night.
The next goal came from a brilliant one-two from between Lekic and Hume as the Canadian stung a left footer into the goal. With three minutes to go, the impetus was there. Another splendid effort hit the bar as Atletico kept fighting for the elusive third goal.
Just when Atletico de Kolkata was menacingly close to their third goal, ex-Kolkata man Fikru Teferra was introduced. He earned the wrath of the home fans with an instant foul even before he had touched the ball. He knocked down Sameehg Doutie and surprisingly escaped unscathed. That lead to a long period of bad blood clashes which was finally resolved as the referee chose to flash a red for Atletico coach Habas. The Spanish coach had made his feelings audible about the atrocious officiating and that did not go down well with the foreign referee.
Fikru was in the news again as he displayed a questionable sportsman spirit, ending up scoring against his former team. The match had restarted after a long hiatus as the two sides organized its conflicting players. The referee signaled for a drop kick and Fikru instead of passing the ball back to Kolkata, attempted to roll it out for a thrown in. From the consequent throw, he did not wait for Atletico to get back possession. He snatched the ball from a loose pass and strolled into an empty net. With that, the last nail was dug into the coffin of Atk’s hopes.
It was an easy goal for the Ethiopian who finally found his scoring shoes after a long gap. But the same spoke volumes about the gamesman spirit of the team managed by Marco Materazzi. Chennaiyin FC will face FC Goa in the finals of this edition of the Hero Indian Super League. It seemed a strange fixture as the teams who were knocked out in the semis last year, extracted revenge to lock horns in the finals this time.