Antonio Habas: ‘We have 90 more minutes’

Antonio Habas, the coach Atletico de Kolkata, seemed expectant of a comeback from his team in the second-leg of the semi-final against Chennayin FC, against whom they lost 3-0 in Pune. Marco Materazzi, the Chennayin FC coach, was also wary of the potent opposition.

"We conceded three goals here (in Pune). Maybe we can score three in Kolkata," Antonio Habas said.   -  ISL/Sportzpics

The deep respect amidst the rivalry Marco Materazzi and Antonio Habas have for each other came through after a bruising battle on Sunday night in the first-leg semi-final at Balewadi stadium. Both teams indulged in ruthless physical play, following instructions. The intent was to disrupt rivals’ rhythm and ball-players on both ends bore the brunt, till Bruno Pelissari switched on skill with a direct free-kick goal, and Jeje Lalpekhlua and Stiven Mendoza combined to remind fans of artistry.

Chennaiyin FC is preparing for a tougher time ahead when the two sides clash again at Atletico de Kolkata’s home base, Salt Lake stadium. “They are a physical team. I expect a physical game in the next one. My players can adapt to any situation and if they have to play physical, they will,” said Materazzi, adding: “I didn’t expect this because Kolkata have not lost by three goals in two years. They are a good, compact team. I am so proud of my squad right now.”

Despite being three goals up, the Italian World Cupper does not believe a place in the final is sealed yet, as long as ATK have a brooding, plotting Spaniard in charge, ready to turn the tables on unsuspecting rivals. “I am not in the final yet. I know his potential, and the kind of coach he is, you can expect (them to give) everything. In Kolkata, 60-70,000 people [will be] supporting them. I wish I could chill. I don’t think you can do that and you have to wait till the last minute.”

When realisation sunk in that his team had been outplayed, capped by three stunning goals against the defending champions, the ATK coach admitted: “We weren’t as hungry as Chennai. They played well and were more aggressive than us. They were hungrier and I think that’s what went wrong. We would like to congratulate them.” He is ready for a fight to the finish in the return leg on December 16.

ATK have a track record in ISL so far to match his words. FC Goa were outwitted in penalties last season in a knockout semi-final, Kerala Blasters were nudged aside in the final by a team which played mean football, though a successful one. “We have 90 minutes more. We conceded three goals here (in Pune). Maybe we can score three in Kolkata,” said the Spaniard, one match away from his second ISL final in two years.

Materazzi remembered ISL 2014 semi-finals. Kerala Blasters won the first leg 3-0 at home, lost the return leg at Chennai (1-3) yet sneaked into the final on aggregate 4-3. The Italian felt pride at his players’ approach. “What I am proud of is that we started as a group, the same players are playing towards the end of the adventure. Rafael Augusto and Ganesh Dhanpal (injured) are not here, but I am really proud of my team.” Elano Blumer and Mehrajuddin Wadoo return to the squad after serving suspension.

Habas is already in fight back mood to think of advantages for his opponents in Kolkata when the two first-choice players return. “I am not thinking about Chennai. I am thinking at my team,” came his booming reply, in response to query about catching up with Chennaiyin next time he crosses swords with Materaazi.