Chennaiyin FC realised their maiden entry to the Hero ISL final riding on a 4-2 aggregate at the end of the second leg, here at the Salt Lake Stadium, on Wednesday. The Chennaiyins lost the match 2-1 against the host and defending champion Atletico de Kolkata but had enough in reserve from its commanding 3-0 win in the first leg in Pune (played on December 12) that secured their passage to the title clash against FC Goa.
ATK came close to pushing the action to extra time securing a 2-0 lead by the 86th minute but a moment of indiscretion between goalkeeper Amrinder Singh and defender N. Mohanraj put paid to its hopes. Substitute Fikru Taferra, who played for ATK last season, became the nemesis for the host when he snatched the ball from Mohanraj, who fumbled with the ball thrown at him by Amrinder, and ran unchallenged to score. This mix-up two minutes into the injury time, reduced the margin for the visitor got the aggregate back to a healthy level (4-2). Till this moment the host was calling the shot with a goal each from Dejan Lekic and Iain Hume, who scored in either halves.
Lekic’s opportunistic goal defined the tenor and temperament of the first period, where the host dominated a fairly reserved visitors looking to preserve the 3-0 advantage. The absence of two of its most consistent international recruits – Spaniard Borja Fernandez and Botswana’s Oftense Nato – owing to injury forced the ATK coach Antonio Habas to make some alterations in the line up. The host brought in the big Serbian striker Dejan Lekic and N. Mohanraj as the two replacements. Dekic’s introduction saw the host move into an ultra offensive mode with Canadian Iain Hume and South African Sameehg Doutie making it a three-man attack. Lekic got his first look at the goal in the fifth minute but his attempt from top of the box went wide.
Hume could have got the break in the 13th minute but he failed to control the ball inside the box and lost to the doughty Frenchman Bernard Mendy in the centre of the Channaiyin defence. Marco Materazzi spun a defensive web around the host apparently drawing the plot form this Italian schooling on the famous Catenaccio system. It could be judged from the extra men Materazzi employed to bolt out the ATK attackers whenever they approached the Chennaiyin box.
Apart from the two goals, ATK earned at least five more opportunities which the host could not capitalise on. The Chennaiyin defence – especially Mendy, Brazilian Malison Alves and the Bete under the bar – did exceptionally well to keep the ball off the line. There were moments of tension towards the end of the match when Japanese referee, Yudai Yamamoto, had to regularly flash the yellow card to contain the warring opponents, especially after the second goal that came off a brilliant left-footer from Hume (86th minute). The worst came in the ejection of Habas who was asked to leave the technical area for over-protesting against the referee. The refereeing had lot to be desired as Yamamoto apparently showed unnecessary leniency at times and thereby helped in aggravating the situation.
The result: Atletico de Kolkata 2 (Dejan Lekic 22, Iain Hume 86) bt Chennaiyin FC 1 (Fikru Teferra 90+2).
Aggregate score: Chennaiyin FC 4 – ATK 2.
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