With the match deep into injury time, Sushanth Mathew went on an exploratory run down the right flank for Kerala Blasters . Seeing two Chennaiyin defenders in front of him, the native Keralite hit a backheel to bring the ball to his left foot and to also get a clear view of the goal. In a moment of inspiration aided by a dose of fortune, Sushanth unleashed a curling left footer which found its way into the right corner of the Chennaiyin goal. A perfect goal on a perfect night for Kerala with its native son providing the finishing touch to a 3-0 win over table toppers and favorites , Chennaiyin at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Kochi.
Kochi was in an ecstatic frenzy last night. One, their home team had outplayed the table toppers. Two, they got to see a cricketing legend. A visibly pleased Tendulkar, sat in the VIP box flanked by Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan, all three sporting the Blasters’ yellow tee shirt. And did they have reasons to cheer!
Watching the Kerala Blasters play, it was hard to believe that this was the same team that had to struggle to get into the semifinals . Chennaiyin FC started off as the favourites. And with the confidence of having defeated Kerala Blasters in the group matches, they must have expected it continue their dominance over their southern neighbours. Sports Rediscovered had predicted a win for the men in blue (here) but the yellow brigade had other plans. In any case it was a bad day for men in blue
Both teams made four changes in their lineup. Chennai entered the match with top-scorer Elano Blumer. (Blumer did have to walk off the field in the second half). For Kerala unsurprisingly, Milagres Gonsalver was dropped. Ishfaq Ahmed was brought in finally, and he made his presence felt in style. Where have you been hiding him till now, David James?
The final line up was as follows:
Chennaiyin FC: Bracigliano (GK), Dhana, Silvestre, Nesta, Mendy, Denson, Elano, Djemba-Djemba, Jeje, Balwant
Kerala Blasters FC: Nandy (GK), McAllister, Falvey, Gurwinder, Chettri, Ahmed, Pearson, Mehtab, Forcada, Chopra, Hume
The first half saw a spirited Kerala Blasters dominate play, with Chennai leading the attack by a small margin (51% to 49%). Within just nine minutes into the game, Ishfaq Ahmed made it clear that he meant business. He assisted Michael Chopra with a wonderful run up and pass. However, the young lad was meant for ‘bigger things’. In the 26th minute, right after the home side was denied a goal for being offside, Ahmed drove the ball into the nets to score his first goal in the ISL. The shirtless celebration saw him getting booked, but the 60,900 Kochiites were too wild with joy to notice.
Captain Iain Hume closely followed with another goal. And all of this, within a time period of 2 minutes. The ‘underdogs’ were clearly in control of the game now. And the defence, thanks to which Kerala rode into the semis, ensured that the goal count for the visitors remained at zilch. Come halftime, and the Blasters were still leading with 2 goals to its credit.
Second Half :
In the second half, Chennai piled the pressure on the hosts. The kerala goalkeeper, Sandeep Nandy, showed off some tremendous goalkeeping skills, and safely cleared away Bruno Pelissari’s free kick. And he was not the only goalie showing his worth.
His French counterpart Genarro Bracigliano deserves credit for his ‘double’ save (Hume, Barisic). The second half also saw its share of ugly action. A feud broke out between Iain Hume and the Chennaiyin goalie, with Genarro giving the Kerala captain a shoulder push. More arguments were seen in the 84th minute, with Gurwinder getting a yellow card for arguing with the referee about Djemba’s foul.
Kerala Blasters were looking very good, but Coach David James wanted more. In the 83rd minute he introduced Sushanth Mathew. And the local boy turned showstopper for the Blasters. Just minutes before the referee whistled for full time, Sushant slammed the ball into the nets with an elegant curler, and the yellow sea erupted in the stands. This was the final nail in the coffin for Chennaiyin. (Again, Mathew was booked for the torso display involving celebrations).
Awards and Recognitions:
Hero of the Match: Ishfaq Ahmed (Kerala Blasters FC)
Swift Moment of the Match: Gennaro Bragicliano(Chennaiyin FC)
Amul Fittest Player of the Match: Ishfaq Ahmed (Kerala BlastersFC)
ISL Emerging Player of the Match: Balwant Singh (Kerala BlastersFC)
More to Come:
They started off as the dark horse, but Kerala Blasters have surely made a statement with this win. The return leg of the semifinals will be held on the 16th of December in Chennai. The Chennai team will have a mountain to climb in the return leg and it will be interesting to see if Kerala can continue to progress.