The final of the Indian Super League 2021-22 saw a ‘yellow-turned’ Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Fatorda embrace a new champion on Sunday as Hyderabad FC beat Kerala Blasters 3-1 on penalties.
Halicharan Narzary scored the winning penalty as the KBFC slumped to its third loss in a final. The horrors of 2016 saw it repeat itself as Ivan Vukomanovic's men became the team with most losses in an ISL final.
Kerala Blasters began the match pressing high and came excruciatingly close to scoring in the 39th minute when Alvaro Vazquez’s shot from the edge of the box hit the outside of the goalpost — an entity that denied KBFC, goals not once but thrice in the match.
Hyderabad FC, which has scored the most number of goals this season, looked very unlike its reputation launching just two shots in the first half — with its final third zonally marked well by the trio of Marko Leskovic, Hormipam Ruivah and Jeakson Singh.
After a dominant first-half display by Blasters, its local boy Rahul KP, who received a resounding welcome ever since coming on to warm up, scored the opening goal in the 68th minute. The Thrissur-born player hit a phenomenal strike from outside the box, which despite a touch by HFC goalkeeper Laxmikant Kattimani, sneaked into the net, leading to one section of the fans erupting, as they whistled, danced and illuminated the stadium with their mobile flashlights.
HFC captain Joao Victor had told the press before the match, “We have prepared all (everything) for this moment.” The next 20 minutes reflected that as Hyderabad drew level with just two minutes of regulation time remaining.
Goa-born Sahil Tavora, who had scored just two goals in the league’s history, struck his first goal of the season on home soil with a right-foot stunner from outside the box to rescue his side from the cusp of defeat. Kerala Blasters goalkeeper Prabhsukhan Gill was a firm pillar between the sticks but looked hapless against Tavora’s stunner as the match trudged into extra-time.
With Marko Leskovic’s header after a touch by Jeakson Singh hitting the bar in the 102nd minute and Leskovic denying Ogbeche a certain goal eight minutes later, the stage was well-set for the penalty shootout – KBFC’s second one in an ISL final.
Kerala’s two key strikers Alvaro Vazquez and Jose Pereyra Diaz were subbed off by Ivan Vukomanovic, which returned to haunt him as his side missed three of its four penalties, with Ayush Adhikari the only player to find the back of the net.
The last time Hyderabad FC played in front of its fans, the side finished at the bottom of the table. When fans returned, HFC gave them something they yearned for – football, goals, trophies and above all, happiness.