ISL Semi-Final 2: ATK wary of in-form Chennaiyin

Chennaiyin FC will look to continue their winning streak as they welcome Atletico de Kolkata to their makeshift home of Balewadi Stadium in Pune for the first leg of the semi-finals of the Indian Super League.

Chennaiyin FC have won their last four matches scoring 12 goals along the way.   -  ISL SPORTZPICS

Familiarity breeds respect in the Atletico de Kolkata camp for rival goalkeeper Edel Bete. The burly Cameroon custodian proved his worth for the defending champions last season with astute covering of angles and reflex blocks. Chennaiyin FC, playing the home semi-final in neutral territory at the Balewadi stadium here, have a match-winner under the bar during the ISL 2015.

Bete switched team colours without any dip in form, and has kept five clean sheets in 10 league games for Chennaiyin, saving two penalties making 28 saves in the process. He is a front-runner for the Golden Gloves list.

ATK coach Antonio Habas, in a happy mood on eve of the match, used humour to answer the questions posed by the Cameroon goalkeeper on the pitch. “I know Bete, he is a very good footballer. We will try to score against him. He is my friend.”

The Spaniard, guiding his team to second consecutive semi-final, is non-committal about extending his coaching tenure. “My contract is for two years, after that I don’t know.”

Canadian striker Iain Hume has a reputation for unlocking defences with daring runs into the goalmouth to intercept passes or crosses. Like Bete, he changed sides from Kerala Blasters FC to ATK without losing any of his fighting instinct or his sharpness around the goalmouth. The Canadian is one of Habas’ prized assets, having shown amazing endurance to play all 14 league games for a champion unit, a staggering 1251 minutes of playing time.

Marco Materazzi can only hope his in-form goalkeeper can play a part in neutralising the tireless Canadian, for whom going deep into his own half to accept passes out of defence and then drive forward through the middle in the hunt for goals, comes with the job.

Bete face-to-face with Hume in the goalmouth, the goalkeeper trying to read the striker’s mind, may decide the first-leg semi-final in regulation time. Two other players, goalkeeper Amrinder Singh for ATK and forward Stiven Mendoza for Chennaiyin, have performed consistently enough right through the competition to go off the boil at crunch time. The Indian custodian has managed to carve out his place in a set up dominated by Spaniards.

Colombian striker Mendoza, leading the Golden Boot race with 11 goals and two assists in 13 appearances, will test the ATK custodian. Chennaiyin’s strike-force is blunted due to Brazilian Elano Blumer’s one match suspension (yellow card) and midfielder Raphael Agusto (injury), putting the responsibility on Mendoza, with support from Jeje Lalpekhlua in the frontline. Mehrajuddin Wadoo sits out the match due to suspension (yellow card).

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