Fans, neutrals, critics and others were all treated to footballing action of the very best level over two legs in the Hero Indian Super League’s first semi-final. Everyone had written off Kerala Blasters much before the first leg match even began but Kerala cruised into the Finals of the ISL with a crucial away goal in extra time after Chennaiyin drew level at the Marina Arena.
Kerala’s stunning 3-0 lead over Chennaiyin at home initially seemed to be an unassailable lead, but as the tale unfolded in Chennai, words cannot truly do justice to the thrill that the match produced.
Chennaiyin drew the tie level at 3-3 courtesy a headed goal by Mikael Silvestre, an own goal by Kerala’s Sandesh Jhingan and a last minute equaliser by Jeje Lalpekhlua that finally had the Chennai crowd leaping in air out of sheer joy after having held on to their chairs for fifteen minutes that felt like eternity.
The leaping Chennaiyin fans were left high and dry soon after when their Player-manager Marco Materazzi picked two yellow cards in two minutes and was sent off, reducing Chennaiyin to 10 men. That put the two teams on par as Kerala had also been reduced to 10 men early in the first half of the match. And soon enough Kerala Blasters silenced the Chennaiyin crowd by scoring in the second half of Extra Time. That goal by Stephen Pearson ensured that even though Kerala lost 3-1 on the night, it was the team from ‘God’s Own Country’ that booked its place in the Finals of the first ever Hero Indian Super League.
Early on, Chennaiyin left everyone dumbstruck with its tactics. Both Elano Blumer and Bruno Pelissari were left out of the starting eleven. Ace Keeper Bracigliano and ISL’s first Indian Goalscorer Balwant Singh were also on the bench with Denson Devadas. They were replaced by Marco Materazzi himself stepping into his soccer boots. Materazzi started the match as a Right Wing Midfielder. Shilton Paul was handed the keeper’s gloves and Gouramangi Singh started in defense. Striker Jean-Eudes Maurice stood in place of Elano Blumer but the biggest surprise was the man standing with Maurice. Centre-back Bernard Mendy was Chennaiyin’s third striker in the offensive 4-3-3 formation.
Silvestre Heads Chennaiyin Into The Lead
It all seemed to have been going as per plan for Chennaiyin when the team got a goal through Mikael Silvestre’s headed effort in the 42nd minute. Marco Materazzi curled a freekick into the box and Mikael Silvestre was completely unmarked. Silvestre woke the defenders up by heading the ball home and putting 1-0 on the night and 1-3 in the tie.
Marco Materazzi Misses Penalty
After that assist, Marco Materazzi’s night just turned into a nightmare. Soon after the second half began, Chennaiyin drew a foul from Sandesh Jhingan inside the Kerala 18-yd box and the referee needed no second look to award a penalty.
Materazzi, the most responsible man in the Chennaiyin team, took the responsibility of taking the penalty but even World-Cup winners miss. Materazzi kept his cool once and slotted it in but the referee forced Materazzi to take it again due to an infringement in the box. Second time was not so lucky for Materazzi and his effort was wide off target. A great chance went begging there for Chennaiyin.
It Goes From Bad To Worse For Kerala
Already down to 10-men after Jamie McAllister got red-carded in the first half, Kerala’s night could not have gotten any worse when an own goal from Sandesh Jhingan made it 2-0 with 15 minutes to play. Sandip Nandy came off his line to collect a wayward long ball sent by Pelissari. Sandesh Jhingan chested the ball towards an on-rushing Nandy and the ball rolled into the back of the net.
A Last Minute Equaliser
There was desperation all around the field after that suicidal goal by Jhingan. Chennaiyin desperately pushed forward looking for an equaliser to push the match into extra-time. Kerala on the other side pulled more men backwards in a desperate attempt to stop Chennaiyin from getting that third goal.
It was Chennaiyin that proved to be the more resilient team as the Indian striker Jeje Lalpekhlua netted it. Bernard Mendy beat Jhingan on the right wing and then lobbed a beautiful ball towards the far post where Jeje chested it calmly into the right goal unlike Jhingan.
Materazzi’s Nightmare continues
The desperation hurt Chennaiyin soon after the equaliser. Materazzi was all over the place and picked two yellow cards in two minutes. The Chennaiyin crowd was left silenced as they watched Materazzi heading back into the dug-out in additional time of second-half.
Kerala Get Winning Goal In Second-Half Of Extra-Time
With the suspension of Materazzi, the number advantage Chennaiyin had held over their opponent vanished. Kerala snapped out of paralysis and for the first time in the match, the team was on attack.
The first half of extra time ended all square with both teams negating each other thoroughly. However, the Kerala players found the extra determination needed with the start of the second half of extra time. Whatever David James said to his boys worked wonders. Stephen Pearson shimmied through the Chennaiyin defenders and then drove a low shot in past Nandy to give Kerala an away goal that proved to be the winner as Kerala took the tie 4-3 on aggregate.