ISL 2014After playing 210 minutes of goalless game, spread over two semifinal legs; including the extra-time in the second leg, the outcome of second semifinal between Atletico de Kolkata and FC Goa had to be decided on penalty-shootouts. ATK had the twin handicaps of playing without star striker Fikru and contending with a raucous home support for FC Goa from the packed Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium at Margaon. The teams were aware of the high stakes in the game and made a cautious start that robbed the spectators of quality football at least in the initial stages. A section of the football media has not stopped ruing Chennaiyin FC’s loss a day earlier. As per them, the final between Goa and Chennai could have been more fitting exciting. But results in football games are never based on wishful thinking as Kerala came up with a game-stealer against Chennai at closing stages and ATK held their nerves against Goa during the penalty shoot-outs. Goa strikers missed absolute sitters and lost the game to a team that began ISL with great promise over two months ago. For the last and title game of the Hero Indian Super League, Atletico de Kolkata and Kerala Blasters will meet each other at Navi Mumbai’s DY Patil Stadium on December 20. It is expected that both teams will have their best players for the crucial game for a tooth-and-nail fight.

The match began with the ball going from one end to another as both teams got into an attacking mode. Though the home team had a higher percentage of ball possession and made better moves to the goal than ATK, they failed in creating scoring opportunities. Atletico de Kolkata were content in defending and looked for sudden chances of counter-attacks in a bid to catch their opponents unawares. Such laid back approach made the game a bit of a drab at times. ATK missed their charismatic Ethiopian striker Fikru Teferra and Mohammad Rafi, despite his best attempts couldn’t fill in for the acrobatic Fikru. In the opening minute, Jakub Podany was brought down by a Goan defender near the box but Josemi’s free-kick sailed over the crossbar. For FC Goa, the best chance came in the 7th minute, when Debabrata Roy sent a lovely cross that Andre Santos took on his chest and passed to Romeo Fernandes. Romeo, in turn, shot far wide off the mark. In the 20th minute, Goa’s captain Gregory Arnolin had a great scoring chance, when he received a perfect ball from Miroslav Slepicka but the Frenchman’s header was saved by ATK goalkeeper Edel Bete in a reflex action. Bete appeared to be undergoing some strain as Josemi took up many of the goal kicks in his place. For Goa too, a substitution was called for the injured Peter Carvalho and Sheikh Jewel Raja filled in for him. In the 39th minute, Santos and Slepicka combined well and when Santos reached the striking distance, his shot scooped over the crosspiece. The score continued to be goalless as the teams went away for a half-time breather.

Just after the break, Goa’s Romeo Fernandes made an attractive solo move and after evading a defender, he struck firmly but his shot missed the target. Since the ATK goalkeeper had got a touch, Goa was awarded a corner but they couldn’t utilize the opportunity. Some 10 minutes later, Andre Santos charged into the penalty box and fell down in a sliding tackle with ATK defender Arnab Mondal. Goa demanded penalty from the referee, who remained unimpressed. After the 60th minute, Luis Garcia, who looked visibly tired, was replaced by Jofre. Jofre got into act immediately and sent a tantalizing floater to the near post but Nato missed the header as Goa keeper Jan Seda punched the ball away. In a counter immediately, Mandar Rao Desai sent a through ball to Santos, who dodged two defenders and shot hard at the ATK goal in a swift turning action. But ATK keeper Bete used his legs to clear the danger.

In the two halves of 15 minutes each, the game continued in the same pattern as the first 90 minutes. Though Kolkata looked like a better side in the first half of extra time, Goa exerted themselves in the second. In the only noteworthy effort, Mandar Rao Desai’s low shot was too close to Edel. After the end of the extra 30 minutes, it was time for the shootout.

Despite giving the appearance of the better team, Goa lost their way in the penalty shootout. For all his big experience, Andre Santos’ effort looked comic, when he shot miles over the bar. Similarly, Afghan star Zohaib Amiri could only strike the post. These two misses proved too costly for Goa as ATK held their composure and converted all four shots from Josemi, Mohammad Rafi, Jofre and Borja Fernandez. As the last shot went into the goal, a pin-drop silence enveloped the stadium with the Goa supporters losing their breath. However, the ATK camp turned ecstatic and their owner Sourav Ganguly was seen smiling in the galleries.