Belfort's blast gives Kerala the advantage

The Haitian striker was once in fine form, scoring the match-winner, as Kerala Blasters defeated Delhi Dynamos 1-0 in the first of its two-leg Indian Super League semifinal at the Nehru Stadium here on Sunday night.

Kervens Belfort of Kerala Blasters celebrates his goal against Dynamos during 1st Leg Semi-final match of Hero ISL season 3 at Kochi.   -  Special Arrangement

Every time Kervens Belfort danced past defenders, shaking his body this way and that, the crowd went into a frenzy. The Haitian is an entertainer. Just a few days ago, he juggled the ball a few times on his knees as he moved past a defender.

The Haitian striker was once again in fine form, scoring the match-winner, as Kerala Blasters defeated Delhi Dynamos 1-0 in the first of its two-leg Indian Super League semifinal at the Nehru Stadium here on Sunday night.

>MATCH CENTRE

And once again, there was a lovely piece of action before Belfort’s 65th minute goal. He went on a solo run near the centre line and as he entered the box, Belfort dodged his way past Spanish defender Ruben Rocha and shot home. Another defender Anas Edathodika made a desperate attempt to stop him, even as the goalkeeper Antonio Santana charged out but they could nothing.

Delhi, blessed with attacking stars like Marcelo Pereira, Richard Gadze and Kean Lewis who have scored plenty of goals this season, showed its attacking instincts early. Captain Florent Malouda found a way through the middle in the opening minutes but with two defenders surrounding him, he passed the ball to Kean Lewis on the left but the Indian shot wide.

A lovely counter-attack followed with Belfort racing on the left and providing a neat pass to C.K. Vineeth. But the Kerala star, the team’s hero with five goals from six games this season, hit the side netting.

That was how the game went, with both teams even for a major part of the match. Kerala attacked through the flanks, with Belfort keeping Delhi on its toes with his raids on the left while right back Sandesh Jhingan moved up frequently on the right.

Kerala’s target was to make the most of the packed stadium and as the team settled down, Cedric Hengbart, captain Aaron Hughes and Sandesh Jhingan took turns in going forward, moves which confused Delhi.

The home defenders marked the Delhi stars well: Hengbart kept Gadze on a tight leash, Jhingan took care of Kean Lewis, Hughes handled Ghana’s Richard Gadze while midfielder Mehtab Hossain took charge of Florent Malouda, the visitor’s marquee player. But Marcelo – the league’s top scorer with nine goals – kept up the pressure up on the right flank, keeping left-back Josu Currias Prieto busy. Prieto picked up a yellow midway through the first half and when things turned hotter, coach Steve Coppell smartly pulled the Spaniard out and sent in Ivory Coast’s Didier Kadio.

On the other side, three men were appointed to guard Vineeth and they were successful to an extent.

Just as the first half appeared to finish empty, Belfort produced a goal only to see it being disallowed. The Haitian appeared to trap the ball with his chest and tummy before unleashing a fine shot but referee Pranjal Banerjee felt that the striker’s hand had come into play as he controlled the ball and disallowed the goal.

Belfort was disappointed but shortly after the hour-mark, his fine solo run produced the match-winner.

Delhi almost found the equaliser in the 75th minute, but Hengbart made a wonderful goalline save, heading out a Marcelo Pereira header and the Kerala goalkeeper Sandip Nandy hugged him gratefully.

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