ISL: ATK through to final after goalless draw

Atletico de Kolkata reached its second final in three ISL seasons, pulling off a goalless draw with 10-men against Mumbai City FC at the Mumbai Football Arena.

ATK's striker Juan Belencosco (19) winches as MCFC defender Lucian Golan takes off in an attempted header during the second leg semifinal, at the Mumbai Football Arena.   -  ISL/Sportzpics

Atletico de Kolkata reached its second final in three ISL seasons, pulling off a goalless draw with 10 men against Mumbai City FC at the Mumbai Football Arena. The visitor won 3-2 on aggregate in the double-leg semifinal and after controlling emotions and the pace of play in the second half with a man short, it ended up losing another player for the title clash after Spanish striker Juan Belencoso was sent off for an off-the-ball offence after the final whistle.

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Needing a draw to confirm a final place, ATK’s body language was positive in the second half, after surviving a stormy first half when MCFC tore open the defence but to no avail. The visitor overcame the loss of defender Robert Lalthlamuana (two yellow) by withdrawing players into own half and soaking up pressure. The celebrating ATK dugout ran to the sideline, in the crowd of players, and all hell broke loose as Mumbai City's Brazilian Thiago Cunha was seen running away to safety after starting a brawl. He was also sent off by the referee for his role in the melee.

ATK created a flutter in the MCFC goalmouth when Javier Lara put off his marker with a body swerve, crossed across the goalmouth, Belencosco arrived late and the ball rolled over the line for a goal-kick.

MCFC pushed Otacilio Alves and Jackichand Singh into the mix, expecting the skilful Brazilian and the fleet-footed Indian to inject sparkle into play. ATK switched to clever tactics, holding on to the ball as long as possible in the home side's half amid an anxious defence commiting fouls.

In the first half, Norde and Chhetri were among the chances for Mumbai. The home fans let out a roar when Norde raced down the left wing, controlling the ball in a run to the goalline. ATK cleared at the expense of a corner. Defederico slotted the ball in off a deflection, but the linesman flag was up for off-side. Chhetri got a chance off a defensive lapse, advanced for a one-on-one situation with custodian Debjit, who blocked his effort.

ATK goalmouth saw a lot of traffic, with the blues threatening moves down the left via Norde and the visitor losing possession frequently. Chhetri darted to the goalline near the right post, pressurising the defender to thwart the threat again at the cost of a corner. Norde danced past defenders at will. In response to Mumbai's attacking threats, the visitor slowed down the pace to gain control.

The match took a twist in the 43rd minute when ATK defender Robert Lalthamuana was shown a second yellow card for a rash foul on Defederico. From then on, ATK, which had to play with one man less, held its nerves to progress to its second final in three seasons. It will either meet Delhi Dynamos or Kerala Blasters.

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