Atletico de Kolkata have lifted the winners’ trophy for the second time in the short three-year history of Hero Indian Super League. The match was literally the repeat of 2014 ISL final played at Mumbai, where Kolkata had defeated Kerala Blasters. At Kochi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Sunday, ATK once again beat Kerala Blasters FC. After 120 minutes of regulation and extra-time left the two contenders locked at a 1-1, the decision came from penalty shoot-outs. There was little to choose between the two teams as both of them matched each other strongly but two penalty misses by Kerala Blasters went against them in the end. ATK’s winning penalty came from Jewel Raja. While the overjoyed ATK players celebrated on the ground after the victory, it was a big disappointment for the majority of 54000 local fans, who had come to watch their heroes become the 2016 ISL Champions. Before the penalty shoot-out drama began, all goal-scoring actions had taken place in the first half, when Mohammed Rafi’s 37th minute goal was equalized in the 44th by Henrique Sereno.
As the match began, Kerala Blasters invaded ATK’s goal territory and had a promising chance in 10th minute. Kervens Belfort had sent a great ball for Mohammed Rafi, but Rafi’s superb attempt on target went in vain with ATK’s Spanish player Jose Luis Espinosa Arroyo coming up with a brilliant sliding tackle. Five minutes later, it was ATK’s turn to launch a coordinated attack on KB goal in a 1-2 between Iain Hume and Helder Postiga but in the end, Postiga’s weak left-footer flew wide. A minute later, ATK had another chance, when Lalrindika Ralte sent a cross from left that was perfect for Sameehg Doutie in the box. But Doutie played straight into the hands of KB goalkeeper Graham Stack. Soon Postiga had two more chances but the Portuguese star’s strikes missed the target on both occasions. With greater share of ball possession in the first 30 minutes, ATK denied the hosts any attack on their own goal. However in 37th minute, Kerala Blasters earned a corner and Mehtab Hossain’s floater found Rafi in the box. After Rafi’s clean header put KB 1-0 ahead, ATK equalized in 44th minute, when Sameehg Doutie’s corner saw ATK’s Henrique Fonsica Sereno and KB defender Sandesh Jhingan rising to their full heights. Jhingan lost to Sereno, whose header went flying over the goalkeeper to find the back of the net. The two teams went for the break at 1-1.
The start of the second-half saw end-to-end play with neither side able to create any chances. In 64th minute, however, KB’s Duckens Nazon produced a moment of individual brilliance and entered the box after evading two ATK defenders, but his close-range strike was saved by ATK goalkeeper Debjit Majumder. A little later, a shot by ATK’s Postiga was cleared by Stack. For Kerala Blasters, Nazon got into another act but his shot from the edge of the box went wide. As regulation time neared, ATK missed out on a big chance of going into the lead. Lalrindika Raltesent produced a wonderful low cross but none of the ATK players was there to connect from 6 yards. It was now time for the extra 30-minute period. In the 110th minute, ATK came close to scoring after Ralte delivered another low cross but yet again couldn’t find any of his teammates to complete the finish from close-range. Kerala Blasters also had a chance in 118th minute but Nazon’s left-footer was blocked by Jewel Raja. After 120 minutes’ play ended, the outcome of the 2016 Hero ISL final rested on penalty shoot-out.
Kerala Blasters had the first chance and Antonio German duly converted. When ATK’s Ian Hume missed his team’s first penalty, KB held an edge. Next was Belfort and he converted to make it 2-0 for Kerala Blasters. After ATK’s Doutie made it 2-1, Kerala Blasters missed the penalty, when Elhadji Ndoye shot over the crossbar. After ATK’s Borja Fernandez leveled up the scores 2-2, Mohammed Rafi made no mistake and KB led 3-2. ATK’s Javi Lara was next and at 3-3, the game could have gone either way with one penalty remaining for each team. However, KB captain Hengbart missed the second penalty for Blasters. The last fate-sealing penalty for ATK was taken by Jewel Raja and he was bang on target to make Atletico de Kolkata Hero ISL champions for the second time in three years.
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