John Abraham owned North-East United hosted master cricketer Sachin Tendulkar’s Kerala Blasters at the Indira Gandhi Stadium in Guwahati in front of a nearly packed house on Monday. The renewed enthusiasm for football was reminiscent of the days of football’s old glory in the second match of the inaugural 2014 season of Indian Super League. Only yesterday, ISL had gotten off to a rousing and colorful start at Kolkata’s huge Salt lake Stadium in the presence of the who’s who of Indian celebrities. In a closely fought encounter, Spanish striker Koke’s opportunistic first-half goal was the difference between the two evenly matched teams. The former Marseille forward struck an angular right-footer that left the former England goalkeeper David James with no chance, though he made a great attempt by diving full length to parry the ball away. It turned out to be a great start for the NEUFC with fans lustily cheering for them in their home ground against the visitors from Gods own Country. In what could easily be described as a tight contest, Kerala Blasters were not found wanting but the luck was not with them. They had their chances, especially in closing stages but the Guwahati defenders foiled all promising attempts. Earlier too, Kerala Blasters dominated the better part of the first half and pressurized the NEUFC defenders. But they couldn’t come close to the target.
The match began at 7 PM Indian Standard Time and the atmosphere was charged with anticipation as the North-East United were playing on their home ground. The two sides featured well-known marquee players from European leagues. Kerala Blasters’ David James was uniquely playing three roles in the match. Besides manning the Kerala Blasters’ goal post, James was KB’s marquee player and also the Manager. It wasn’t an easy task for one man to be doing so many duties. North-East United’s Joan Capdevila was the Marquee player for John Abraham’s side. While David James had 572 EPL appearances on record, Capdevila had been the part of Spain’s World Cup winning team in 2010. At the start, NEUFC’s David Ngaihte got a ball from outside the box and shot bravely towards the KB goal but David James saved it quite easily. The thunderous roar from the home crowd subsided instantly. No serious threats were mounted on either goal for the first 15 minutes. In the 16th minute, however, KB came very close to a scoring, when Iain Hume was fed a pass that he tapped behind the keeper. But in an agonizing moment for KB, Hume was declared off-side. Kerala continued to invade the NEUFC’s goal but failed to find the target. A genuine attempt came in the 27th minute, when striker Sabeeth dodged two defenders and volleyed strongly from just outside of the box but the NEUFC goalkeeper dived to save the shot as KB earned a corner. But the corner was a wasted opportunity as well. In the 33rd minute, a marvelous shot from NEUFC’s Durga Boro looked like slotting in the top corner but David James’ amazing acrobatics ensured that the ball was kept out of harm’s way. At the stroke of halftime, NEUFC clinched the vital 1-0 lead, when Koke’s powerful volley had David James diving full length. But James was unable to save the goal and even as the hooter signaled the break, the hosts took the breather with a 1-0 lead in the match.
After halftime, KB came out with renewed determination and began finding an equalizer opportunity. But the game kept stretching with no more goal-ward action from either side. With less than 10 minutes remaining, KB attacked the NEUFC goal but the attempts were warded off. The Guwahati side also had the chance for a 2-0 lead in the injury time and even as James had strayed, a powerful volley from Zodinghliana could only rattle the crossbar. The Kerala Blasters met with disappointment in their first game as the jubilant home crowd reveled in the 1-0 victory for their home team. For NEUFC, goalkeeper Alexandros Tzorvas was the star performer as he saved several goal-ward attempts from KB.