The coronation of the Nizams

The final of the Indian Super League 2021-22 saw the Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Fatorda embrace a new champion as Hyderabad FC beat Kerala Blasters 3-1 on penalties.

Rulers of the league: Hyderabad FC team celebrates after winning the final match of the Indian Super league against Kerala Blasters FC at the Fatorda Stadium in Goa.   -  Focus Sports/ ISL

The last time, it was Chennaiyin FC. This time, it was Hyderabad FC.

The final of the Indian Super League 2021-22 saw the Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Fatorda embrace a new champion as Hyderabad FC beat Kerala Blasters 3-1 on penalties.

Halicharan Narzary scored the winning penalty, sending KBFC goalkeeper Prabhsukhan Gill the wrong way as the Blasters slumped to their third loss in a final. The horrors of 2016 repeated itself as it became the side with most losses in an ISL final.

Kerala Blasters began the match pressing high, and came excruciatingly close to scoring in the 39th minute.

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Harmanjot Khabra, getting the ball in the penalty box, got the ball down to his feet and set up Alvaro Vazquez at the edge of the box on his right. The Spaniard went for goal right away, only to see it come off after hitting the outside of the woodwork — an entity that denied KBFC, not once but thrice in the match.

Hyderabad FC, which has scored the most number of goals this season, showed signs of nerves launching just two shots in the first half — with its final third zonally marked well by the trio of Marko Leskovic, Hormipam Ruivah and Jeakson Singh.

It became more challenging for Manolo Marquez when Joel Chianese was forced off with a hamstring injury.

But Javier Siverio, who replaced him, gave the first ray of hope soon after coming on. At the brink of the first half, he headed the ball on target off a Mohammad Yasir free-kick.

Prabhsukhan Gill, however, remained firm like a pillar at the back, denying the Nizams their opening goal.

Tavora’s stunner cancels Rahul’s opening goal

Kerala’s local boy Rahul KP, who had received a resounding welcome ever since coming on to warm up, scored the opening goal in the 68th minute.

The Thrissur-born player hit a phenomenal strike from outside the box, which despite a touch by HFC goalkeeper Laxmikant Kattimani, sneaked into the net, leading to one section of the fans erupting, as they whistled, danced and illuminated the stadium with mobile flashlights.

Kerala had not lost a single match this season wherein it had scored first.

HFC Captain Joao Victor had told the press before the match, “We have prepared all (everything) for this moment.” The next 20 minutes reflected exactly that.

In the 71st minute, HFC head coach Manolo Marquez subbed on Halicharan and Sahil Tavora for Aniket Jadhav and Sauvik Chakrabarti respectively — the players who won it for Hyderabad.

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KBFC defender Marco Leskovic’s headed clearance off an HFC free-kick fell for Tavora outside the box in the 88th minute. Tavora, who had scored just two goals in the league’s history before, went for goal with a powerful right-footed hit, which dipped and went into the net.

Hyderabad was level.

Tavora became the first Indian to score for Hyderabad against Kerala Blasters in the history of the league, netting in his first goal of the season and the fans in the Hyderabad FC stand, who were outnumbered by the KBFC fans in the stadium, finally found their voice.

In the 100th, the Croat, Leskovic denied Ogbeche a certain goal.

Hyderabad FC wins it in the penalty shootout

With the match failing to find the winner in 120 minutes, the warning bells rang for Kerala Blasters.

It had been here before — six years ago.

Kerala’s two strikers Alvaro Vazquez and Jose Pereyra Diaz had been subbed off by Ivan Vukomanovic, as Leskovic stepped up to take the first spot-kick.

Kattimani jumped to the right almost immediately and saved as the stadium was stunned into silence. Victor, the captain, stepped up and scored.

Nishu Kumar and Jeakson Singh missed for Kerala while Ayush Adhikari was the only one to find the net for Vukomanovic’s side. For Hyderabad, it was just Siverio who didn’t.

Within four penalties, it was all over. KBFC’s fears returned to haunt it as Manolo Marquez and his entire team jumped to glory and joy in Goa.

“It paid off. Everything that we did during the season paid off — last season, being in a bubble, even this season being in a bubble, and then quarantined because we had a lot of cases of COVID,” Joao Victor said after the match.

Martin Bain, CEO, FSDL presents the ISL 2021-22 trophy to Joao Victor Albuquerque Bruno of Hyderabad FC at the presentation ceremony after the final at the Fatorda stadium in Goa.   -  Focus Sports/ ISL

 

“For me, this is the best group I have played with throughout my career.

“We couldn’t fight for the shield because of the COVID circumstances. Staying away from the family has been very very difficult for all of us. But, I always see the group we have here is like a family, and that makes it easier.”

‘Leskovic was the guy scoring penalties in practice’

After the match, questions were raised on the substitution of KBFC’s two strikers Vazquez and Diaz and Ivan clarified that Leskovic was prepared for the penalties before the match.

“In the last couple of days we were practising penalties as well, and Leskovic was the guy who was scoring the penalties. He has great passing, he has great shots. So, the decision was ours to go with him, Luna was the fifth one then,” Ivan said after the match.

“There is the moment when you are missing some of your players who were supposed to shoot and then you know, as a coach, you always want to ask if there are any players who wanted to shoot.”

“Actually, we had many raised hands over there and many brave boys, so I'm really proud of them.

“Really proud of them. Later on, you know, a penalty is a penalty. You never know how it will come out, so we are at the bad end.”

The Serbian also raised questions about certain refereeing decisions in the match, such as Akash Mishra’s challenge on Nishu Kumar at the edge of the box in the 84th minute, wherein a potential penalty appeal by KBFC was rejected and no cards were shown to the guilty player as well.

Hyderabad leads head-to-head race against Kerala Blasters

The head-to-head record is now 4-3 in favour of the Nizams.

Manolo Marquez laid down the team’s strategy in the post-match conference. “At half-time, we said (to our players) that we have to play a little more compactly.

“In the first half, we had too much space between our lines. In the second half, I think we controlled the situation a bit more,” he said.

Outstanding season: Hyderabad FC finished the 2021-22 ISL campaign with most goals outside the box (13) — bettering KBFC, which is placed second with 11 goals.   -  Focus Sports/ ISL

 

“I think we played well, in terms of football because we know what our situation was in the last weeks and days. I think we played with a lot of personality in the second half and in the extra-time.”

Hyderabad FC finished the 2021-22 campaign with most goals outside the box (13) — bettering KBFC even here, which was placed second with 11 goals.

The last time Hyderabad FC played in front of its fans, Hyderabad FC finished at the bottom of the table. When fans returned, HFC gave them something it yearned for – football, goals, trophies and above all, happiness.