Atletico de Kolkata derived one-goal advantage over Mumbai City FC by defeating the visitors 3-2 in the first-leg semifinal on Saturday. Next day Kerala Blasters FC also snatched a similar lead after beating Delhi Dynamos 1-0 at Kochi. Now ATK and KB go over for away-games on Tuesday and Wednesday at Mumbai and Delhi respectively. The pressure will be on the hosts, who must record victories with two-goal margins for securing their places in 2016 ISL Final on December 18 at Kochi. If the Kerala team comes through, the iconic 60000 capacity stadium would not have an inch of space. But that is a mere conjecture at this point in time.
In first semifinal at Kolkata on Saturday, Atletico de Kolkata began with a bang against Mumbai. Ian Hume came close to scoring in the opening minute but was flagged offside. However ATK went into the lead in 3rd minute, when Borja Fernandes sent a high ball inside the box and Lalrindika Ralte’s well-connected header caught Mumbai goalkeeper Amrinder Singh by surprise. Mumbai, however, came back roaring a few minutes later. In 10th minute, Diego Forlan’s free-kick fell in the box and Leo Costa coolly deposited it in the bottom corner. That goal brought added fillip to an already thrilling game. Mumbai shot into the 2-1 lead in 19th minute, when Forlan produced another high ball for the unmarked Gerson Vieira, who headed it home. Two goals in 10 minutes made Mumbai’s confidence high as they began dominating ATK. However, the home team found its bearings in 39th minute, when Ian Hume restored parity with a superb strike. At the stroke of halftime, Mumbai conceded a penalty, when Ralte wrongly brought down Helder Postiga in the box. Hume stepped up and sent Amrinder the other way. The teams went to break with ATK leading 3-2.
Kolkata came close to extending their lead in 53rd minute, when a promising cross from Prabir Das was headed by Hume but Amrinder managed to clear it away. Hume had another chance but Amrinder saved the blues for Mumbai. In 74th minute, Mumbai suffered a setback, when Forlan picked up his second yellow card and had to leave the field. The remaining time was a challenge for Mumbai as ATK took advantage of Mumbai’s reduced strength. Mumbai players retreated in their half with the objective of preventing any further damage. In the last minute of injury time, Hume almost made it 4-2 but luckily for Mumbai, Hume’s shot flew wide.
In other first-leg semifinal at Kochi, Kerala Blasters rode on home support to defeat Delhi Dynamos 1-0. The match had a thrilling start with both teams creating chances. Dynamos were first to do so, when Kean Lewis shot powerfully but KB goalkeeper cleared the ball. In a counter-attack soon after, KB did likewise after their earned a corner. However, CK Vineeth missed the target after receiving a fine ball from Kervens Belfort. First 10 minutes saw both sides getting more goal-scoring chances but all such efforts were wasted. Kerala coach made a change in 31st minute by bringing in Didier Boris Kadio for Josu Currais but by this time Delhi had begun to find gaps in Kerala’s defense. Delhi came close to scoring in 35th minute, when the Brazilian Marcelinho dribbled into the box from left and shot at the goal but KB goalkeeper collected after some trouble. Just before halftime, Kerala earned a corner. Though Duckens Nazon’s header went wide off the target, Kervens Belfort managed to put the ball into the goal. However, the referee called it a handball and the score remained goalless at halftime.
The teams continued to look for the elusive goal as play began after the break. In 64th minute, Nazon cut through and entered the box but his sharply-angled shot went off the target. In the next minute, Kerala Blasters got what they wanted. Kervens Belfort went through and passed a Delhi defender before shooting. Though Belfort’s short got deflected through Anas Edathodika, it still managed to find the target to send the stadium into frenzy. A few minutes later, Delhi’s attempt to equalize through Florent Malouda was easily saved by KB goalkeeper. In 75th minute, Delhi almost got the equalizer, when Marcelinho header’s beat KB’s goalkeeper Nandy but Cedric Hengbart cleared it at the goal-line. In 84th minute, Kerala Blasters nearly made in 2-0, when CK Vineeth produced a stinging shot but Delhi goalkeeper Doblas dived low to save it. Another of Delhi’s equalizing attempt in injury time from substitute Kim Kima went wide and KB won the first-leg 1-0.
Mumbai and Delhi will host Kolkata and Kerala for the second-leg semifinals on 13th and 14th December respectively but the hosts need to be careful. Despite the home advantage, it may not be so easy to score 2 goals because ATK and KB will defend themselves with all their might. But it is football and one can never really predict the outcome until the last minute is played out.