In an amazing turn of events, Delhi Dynamos missed three successive penalties, after they beat Kerala Blasters FC 2-1 in a display of scintillating football for 120 minutes. The extra time had to be played because the scores were tied on aggregates since Kerala beat Delhi 1-0 in first leg and Delhi beat Kerala 2-1 in the second leg. Dynamos looked a far better side on Wednesday but they couldn’t convert their superior game into victory in the end. It was a huge disappointment for thousands of home supporters, who couldn’t believe their heroes faltering on penalty-shoot out after such a fantastic show despite playing with 10 men for over 90 minutes. Every goal-scoring action was completed in the first half and though the rest of the regulation and extra time saw enthralling football, no goals came from either side. In the penalty shoot-out, Kerala Blasters converted three out of four attempts and riding on Delhi’s sordid misses; marched into the ISL final for the second time just as Atletico de Kolkata have done. The two teams will now repeat the act of the inaugural 2014 final that Atletico de Kolkata won 1-0 at Mumbai. This time, however, Kerala Blasters will have the home advantage, when they play in front of 60000 people at Kochi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Sunday December 18. During the 2014 final, the media had billed the event as a show of strength between ATK owner Sourav Ganguly and KB owner Sachin Tendulkar. The wheel has turned full circle and the two iconic cricketers are not likely to be missed at Kochi either.
Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru stadium was packed with home fans, who expected their team to wipe off the 0-1 first-leg deficit and score one more goal required for reaching 2016 ISL final for the second time. The first 20 minutes of the game were unusually quiet and generally spent on end-to-end play. The two teams couldn’t create any genuine goal-scoring, though Delhi did look in urgency as they entered the Kerala half at the start but the visitors responded with the counter-attack of their own. Suddenly, the game burst open in 21st minute. Delhi’s Marcos played a long ball towards Richard Gadze that was cleared by Kerala’s Kadio. However, the ball fell in the path of Delhi’s Marcelinho Pereira. By this time, KB goalkeeper Sandip Nandy had come out of his line for some inexplicable reasons. Therefore, the Brazilian had an open net ahead of him and he made no error to take DD 1-0 up. However, the lead didn’t last for more than 3 minutes. Kerala Blasters’ Haitian recruit Duckens Nazon made a phenomenal solo effort from left flank, dodged two defenders before entering the box and shooting past DD goalkeeper Antonio Doblas. In 28th minute, Delhi were down to 10 men, when Milan Singh was red-carded for an unruly challenge on KB’s Mehtab Hossain. Delhi’s curtailed strength long before halftime; wasn’t effectively utilized by Kerala Blasters though they launched some fierce attacks. Despite depleted strength, Delhi still found a chance to score in the first-half injury time, when Tebar produced a floating free-kick that landed into the box but deceived KB goalkeeper Sandip Nandy. Nearby, Ruben Rocha rose to his full height and his header rolled into the goal. With a 2-1 halftime lead, Delhi came on equal terms on aggregates.
The hosts looked like dictating terms as second half got underway. In 53rd minute, their captain Florent Malouda flew with the ball past Kerala defenders but his shot sailed over the crossbar. Six minutes later, Rocha headed once again after getting under Tebar’s free-kick but an alert Sandip Nandy foiled the bid. Kerala Blasters also had their chances with Nazon almost getting his second goal in 60th minute but his shot was cleared by Delhi defenders. The proceedings in the rest of the regulation time and the ensuing 30 minutes of extra time were nearly similar. Both teams had their chances but none could be converted. After 120 minutes, the decision rested on penalty shoot-out.
Kerala Blasters took the first strike from the spot and Josu Currais put them ahead by easily beating Antonio Doblas. Then, Delhi faced utter disappointment with Florent Malouda shooting over the crossbar. However, goalkeeper Doblas brought Delhi back into the game by brilliantly saving Antonio German’s shot. Delhi’s second penalty was taken by Bruno Pelissari, who also emulated his captain in also scooping the ball over the crossbar. In KB’s next attempt, Kervens Belfort coolly slotted past Doblas and KB led 2-0. Delhi’s fate was sealed by their third straight miss by Emerson Gomes de Moura, whose shot was brilliantly saved by KB goalkeeper Sandip Nandy. Blasters’ Mohammed Rafique was next and by slotting perfectly into the bottom left corner, Rafique settled the issue in KB’s favor. The end of a breath-taking shoot-out drama paved the way for Kerala Blasters FC’s entry to their second ISL final. On Sunday, they will need to upset the ATK applecart to win the Hero ISL championship for the first time ever.