With 15 points from 13 games, Mumbai still has a theoretical chance to enter semifinals, if they win their next game on Wednesday. The Goal-Difference arithmetic will become a guiding factor because ATK and DD both have 18 points each. Delhi will hope for Kolkata’s defeat in their last game against FC Goa and then see the goal-difference figure. Mumbai must win against NorthEast at Guwahati by a solid margin. But if Kolkata wins, they enter the semifinals and it will be a closed chapter for all others. On Sunday, Mumbai played spirited football against ATK and the 2-1 victory for hosts allowed all eight teams a mathematical probability of making it to the semifinals. But results on Tuesday’s double-header changed that scenario somewhat. Now it is impossible for Pune and NorthEast, though Mumbai still have an intriguing possibility. In another double header on Wednesday, the remaining two league games will decide the last semifinal spot in ISL. On Sunday, Mumbai scored once in each half and though Kolkata equalized in second half, Mumbai restored the lead yet again. Tuesday’s highly entertaining first match at Chennai produced some stunning goals but as the match ended in a 2-2 draw, Delhi Dynamos continued to be in semifinal contention. The second match on Tuesday took Kerala into last four, when the hosts benefitted from a deceptively curling free-kick from Iain Hume and with 16 points from 14 matches, Pune made a heart-breaking exit.
On Sunday, Mumbai took on ATK at DY Patil Stadium at Navi Mumbai. After three consecutive losses and virtually signing themselves off from ISL 2014, Mumbai bounced back smartly with a 2-1 victory in a dominating game. In the first five minutes, Nabi wasted a chance, Ralte’s shot was played into keeper’s hands and Manuel Friedrich just missed a header. Kolkata also missed a chance in 4th minute, when Borja Fernandez shot wide after a fine pass from Mohammad Rafi. Moments later, Mumbai came up with a counter but Anelka’s effort was foiled by ATK goalkeeper. After playing near the ATK goal area for most time, the hosts took the lead in the 40th minute from a goal by Ralte, when Tiago Ribeiro sent a perfect pass and Ralte made no mistake.
15 minutes into the second half, ATK equalized, when Luis Garcia’s short free-kick was played to Borja Fernandez, who found Baljit Sahni at the perfect spot. The game picked up the pace as both sides tried for ascendancy in remaining time. Finally, it was Mumbai, who got the decisive goal in 76th minute, when a free-kick from Ralte was headed powerfully by Manuel Friedrich. Earlier, Mumbai lost a certain goal in the 68th minute with Abhishek Yadav committing a hara-kiri inside the box with just the goalkeeper to beat. ATK also had a chance in 70th minute but Mumbai custodian Subrata Paul saved Josemi’s brilliant free-kick in an acrobatic effort. In the final few minutes of the match, ATK played in Mumbai’s goal area with even the goalkeeper trying his hand at scoring. They managed to score somehow but the goal was ruled off-side.
In Tuesday’s first game, Chennai played Delhi, who began attacking straightaway. A victory here could have taken them to the semifinals but they ceded the control to Chennai. The first goal for Chennai came in 16th minute, when a dangerously moving Jeje Lalpekhlua was blocked by Adil Khan and in the ensuing corner; Bruno Pelissari produced a curling ball that went past the tall Delhi goalkeeper straight into the goal on far post. 10 minutes later, injured Mads Junker was replaced by Alessandro Del Piero. In 28th minute, Jeje doubled Chennai’s lead by connecting to a swinging cross on the run with the ball that came from the right side. It became apparently difficult for Delhi as Chennaiyin GC led 2-0 at half time.
Some enterprising play from DD resulted in cutting the margin to 2-1 in 53rd minute, when Del Piero was brought down and the Italian took the free-kick himself and deposited the ball into left corner to score his first goal of ISL. Enhancing the momentum, Delhi restored parity from a thrilling goal. A ball from a partly cleared free kick fell near Mulder who lost no time in smashing it past the Chennai goalkeeper. Delhi almost went into a 3-2 lead, when dos Santos curled a beautiful shot past the keeper but the ball bounced back into the play after hitting the woodwork. With the drawn game, DD’s hopes now rest with other teams’ performances.
In the second game at Kochi, Kerala Blasters beat FC Pune City and entered the semifinals. It was a crucial game for both sides and Pune kept Kerala on back foot for long periods. The winning goal was scored in the 23rd minute from a brilliant free-kick by Iain Hume, whose curling drive cleared the wall and beat the Pune goalkeeper in air. After this goal, Pune dominated the proceedings in search of the equalizer. Many chances were missed by Pune and some by Blasters as well. But to some extent Sandip Nandy’s fine rescuing attempts kept KB in the lead. In the end, Pune had to bow out with heavy hearts.
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