Kerala Blasters begin with a bang

After a goalless first half, the Blasters came to life early in the second period with three goals coming in a 23-minute spell, the last two with a space of four joyful minutes. They finished with a comprehensive 3-1 win over NorthEast United.

Mohammad Rafi celebrates after scoring his goal. The local boy followed this up with an assist for another goal for his team.   -  H. Vibhu

Josu Currias (right) rifled the ball into the net like a bullet, to provide Kerala Blasters their first of three goals of the night.   -  H. Vibhu

The Kerala Blasters gave the home fans plenty to celebrate at the Nehru Stadium here on Tuesday night. A winning start, an impressive 3-1 verdict over NorthEast United FC and a goal from Kerala boy Mohammed Rafi were the highlights of the evening.

This was a night when the fans clearly had their fill in their team’s Indian Super League (ISL) opener.

While every other team went abroad for their pre-season training, the Blasters stayed at home and had a rather closed camp at Thiruvananthapuram.

Now, we know what they were up to. After a goalless first half, the Blasters came to life early in the second period with three goals coming in a 23-minute spell, the last two with a space of four joyful minutes.

Four minutes after the break, the Blasters went ahead riding on a Josu Currias Prieto goal. A longranger was kicked out by a NorthEast defender. There was a goalmouth melee and the ball came towards home defender C.K. Vineeth. Vineeth, one of the two Kerala players in the home side, tried to send it home with an acrobatic shot but he could only kick air. Sensing his chance, Josu, the Barcelona youth academy product and at 22, the baby of the home team and clearly the star of the day, rifled the ball into the net like a bullet. Rehenesh could just watch helplessly.

After a 20-minute lull, two quick goals followed. The first came from striker Mohammed Rafi from Kasargod. It followed a throw-in and a Peter Ramage header and Kerala-born international headed it home as the stadium erupted in joy. A very happy Rafi, who played for ISL champion Atletico de Kolkata last year, blew kisses to the crowd.

Rafi was the provider for the next goal with a floating header which fell inside the NorthEast box. Former Arsenal winger Sanchez Watt grabbed the opportunity with both hands. He took a couple of steps from the left and foxed the goalkeeper with a solid left-footer.

Italian striker Nicholas Velez netted the NorthEast’s consolation goal with the cross coming from Jorge Fernandez.

NorthEast had beaten the Blasters by a lone goal in its ISL opener, an away game last year, but today the hosts were clearly the hungrier side.

The Blasters adopted a 5-3-2 formation, which helped it to switch easily from defence to attack. Both the wingbacks, C.K. Vineeth on the left and Rahul Bheke, moved smartly up and down the flanks. Josu, the attacking midfielder, was in fine nick, running up nicely and sending a flow of passes to the centre.

The Blasters had two good chances within the first 15 minutes. With its English striker Chris Dagnall in the thick of action, the Kerala-born NorthEast custodian Rehenesh rushed out sensing danger. But despite an empty goal inviting him, Rafi sent the longranger wide in the seventh minute.

A little later, attacking midfielder Josu Prieto ran through the defence on the left flank and sent a nice cross and right back Rahul Bheke, who had advanced smartly, raised the temperature in the stadium. His shot rebounded off the goalkeeper. Dagnall, who was closeby, tried to tap it in but he shot over.

NorthEast’s best chance came a few minutes before that. But Velez’s attempt, after a dangerous run, was thwarted by the Blasters goalkeeper Stephen Bywater.

Full time: Kerala Blasters 3 (Josu Currias Prieto 49, Mohammed Rafi 68, Sanchez Watt 72) bt NorthEast United FC 1 (Nicholas Velez 82).

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