ISL 2023-24 Diary: A joy and a headache for Kerala Blasters; Mohun Bagan enjoys win on the road

Kochi’s Nehru Stadium, the home of the ISL’s most popular team, has left the AFC worried.

Published : Oct 14, 2023 11:26 IST - 5 MINS READ

Adrian Luna (far right) is a crowd favourite in Kochi.
Adrian Luna (far right) is a crowd favourite in Kochi. | Photo Credit: H. VIBHU

Adrian Luna (far right) is a crowd favourite in Kochi. | Photo Credit: H. VIBHU

The Adrian Luna jersey, No. 10, is the most popular one in Kochi. Almost half of the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium appears to be wearing the Luna number whenever the Kerala Blasters plays its Indian Super League (ISL) match in Kochi. And on the roads and lanes leading to the stadium, the Luna tees sell like hot cakes.

Luna (left), the Blasters’ midfield magician from Uruguay, has not disappointed fans that pack the stadium to cheer him and the team. And though the crowds inspire the home boys and often give jitters to the visitors, it has made the Asian Football Confederation sweat nervously too.

“When I saw the match the other day, there were so many families there—children and women—which is very good for football, but the stadium is a recipe for disaster,” said Datuk Seri Windsor John, the AFC general secretary who was in Kochi for the ISL opener between Blasters and Bengaluru FC, in a recent chat with Sportstar.

“These things have happened before—in Indonesia one year ago—so we cannot let our guard down and repeat the problem. Then it’s a disaster for everyone. That, I think, is the biggest concern for the AIFF, and I have conveyed my concerns as well.”

In October 2022, over 125 people, including many children, were killed after thousands of fans rushed on to the ground after their home team lost a match at Malang in Indonesia. Police responded by firing tear gas, and in a bid to escape, people were trampled and crushed at the exits.

The Nehru Stadium, ISL’s favourite football ground and often the venue for the league’s season opener, is virtually in the heart of the city at Kaloor, and that is an issue, felt the AFC official.

“The lack of infrastructure, which includes the security infrastructure and segregation of fans, officials, and players—unfortunately the position and location of the stadium do not allow these to happen,” said John.

“You’re just getting out of the Metro (rail) and into the stadium. When everybody is coming, what is the safety plan?

“Of course, the stadium itself is a little bit old and needs refurbishment—in the dressing rooms, VIP area, and others—because when we play internationals, top teams expect a standard in the facilities provided.”

The Kochi stadium was being considered for hosting a FIFA World Cup qualifier, but that chance has vanished.

It is time for all the stakeholders of the Nehru Stadium, the Kerala Blasters, and the ISL to go for a full audit to ensure that the stadium and its surroundings are safe and the safety and security arrangements are all in order.

Lowering the guard could be dangerous.

Mohun Bagan beat Chennaiyin FC in its own den

Crowd at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai.
Crowd at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai. | Photo Credit: M. VEDHAN

Crowd at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai. | Photo Credit: M. VEDHAN

It was not a perfect homecoming for Chennaiyin FC. Despite an audience of over 8,000 at the Nehru Stadium in Chennai (above), to watch the home team take on Mohun Bagan Super Giant, CFC went down 1-3 tamely to the reigning champion for its third successive defeat in as many matches in the ISL this season.

Win or defeat, coach Owen Coyle remains calm and composed. The 57-year-old Scot said the team would fight back. He knows what he is talking about, for he took Chennaiyin to the final in 2019-20 after being almost out of play-off contention. He implored the players to cut down on their individual errors.

“We have to cut out individual mistakes and look to pick up. I’ve not come in here and inherited a team of champions. I’ve come in here and inherited a team that has only been in the playoffs once in one season, and that was the season when they were at the bottom, and I came in and we changed that. And that’s what we’re doing. We’re working hard; it’s a young group, and they will get better,” said Coyle at the post-match press conference.

Coyle said he is ready to take the hard punches and return stronger. “We’ll continue to take the punches in the nose. It’s not a nice feeling. But that’s football,” he said.

Mohun Bagan fans celebrate Samad’s Messi moment 

Sahal Abdul Samad.
Sahal Abdul Samad. | Photo Credit: M. VEDHAN

Sahal Abdul Samad. | Photo Credit: M. VEDHAN

Sahal Abdul Samad (left) is drawing a lot of analogies for his fine skills, especially his dribbling ability, which is often putting the rival defences in distress. Chennaiyin FC was the latest team to discover it as Sahal’s sorcery around the Marina Machans’ box spelled doom for the former ISL champion. Many fans of Mohun Bagan are ecstatic about Samad’s ‘footwork’ and went on to compare his skills with those of the Argentine superstar, Lionel Messi.

Samad, who made his move from his native side, the Kerala Blasters, this season, has made three assists in as many appearances for Mohun Bagan. The holder, as a result, has won all three matches so far in the ISL-10 to maintain an early lead in the country’s top league. 

Samad, who wears the No. 10 jersey for the national team, seems to be truly coming of age. Although he wears No. 18 for Mohun Bagan, the way he performed against Chennaiyin in the latter’s home in Mohun Bagan’s last outing compelled the fans to compare him with the Argentine captain. 

Samad turned out brilliantly as the ‘play-maker’ and kept the Mohun Bagan raids alive in the attacking third. His best came in the final goal of the match when Mohun Bagan looked to seal the match with a 2-1 scoreline, keeping it perilously close to a drawn result. Samad outwitted four Chennaiyin defenders with his exceptional dribbling ability to clear the ground for upfront colleague Manvir Singh, who had no problem finding the goal and thereby insuring Mohun Bagan’s win (3-1).

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