The second season of Hero Indian Super League, ISL could not have had a more euphoric start than the one at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai on Saturday. Defending champions Atletico de Kolkata began their 2015 campaign on a winning note by defeating hosts Chennaiyin FC in front of 30000 spectators, peppered with industrial big-wigs and Bollywood’s big names. Kolkata’s marquee player Helder Postiga scored twice and super-sub Valdo netted a header. The hosts reduced the margin to 3-2 but despite their spirited challenge, errors in their defense allowed ATK the first of the two goals. In the end, Chennaiyin FC couldn’t match ATK in 2015 season’s inaugural game. Earlier, the new season saw a glittering Opening Ceremony graced by some of India’s more famous people like Mukesh and Nita Ambani, Amitabh Bachchan, Rajinikanth and Sachin Tendulkar.
The Opening Ceremony began at 6 PM, when famous theater personality Bansi Kaul brought his dance troupe to enthrall the crowds with a number of traditional dance performances of Southern India. Later, Bollywood star Arjun Kapoor compered the big show before the match between ATC and CFC. There were two superb dance performances by actress Alia Bhatt and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, interspersed by a Ceremonial Pledge recited by Chennaiyin FC owner Abhishek Bachchan. The crowd was greatly entertained by South India superstar Rajinikanth, who arrived in a vintage car and joined Sachin Tendulkar and Nita Ambani at the stage with the official ball of Indian Super League. The opening ceremony was aptly brought to an end by a wonderful rendition from the celebrated music director AR Rahman.
After the 40-minute show ended, the first match of the 2015 ISL season got underway. As the match began, Chennaiyin FC’s talismanic playmaker Elano Blumer showed his class; dodged away from his marker and earned a corner but Jeje’s header went wide. Chennai had their first real chance in the 10th minute, when ex-ATK star Fikru Teferra entered the goal area in a flash but his stinging shot went just wide of the post. ATK went ahead in 13th minute, thanks to a defensive error by Chennai goalkeeper, Apoula Edel, who played for ATK last season. Edel fumbled, when Borja Fernandes sent a free-kick to the goal and the spilled chance was made good by ATK’s marquee man Helder Postiga. Fikru missed two chances for equalizing in 16th and 24th minutes as Chennai went into attacking mode after conceding the goal. The efforts paid off, when Chennai finally found the equalizer in the 31st minute. Elano sent a through ball to Fikru, who headed towards the goal even as the ATK goalkeeper attempted to block him. However, the loose ball fell in the path of Lalpekhlua Jeje, who calmly tapped the ball into the goal. Just before halftime, Jeje had a chance to make the score 2-1 for his team, when Elano’s cross found him in front of the open goal. But Jeje sent the header wide. The teams went for the break with scores tied 1-1.
The first 25 minutes after halftime remained goalless despite attacks and counter-attacks from both sides. In the 70th minute, Chennai defender Bernard Mendy made a horrible error by trying to send a back pass. Helder Postiga was nearby and taking full advantage of the defensive lapse, the ATK forward scored his second goal to take his side’s score to 2-1. But immediately afterwards, Postiga suffered a fall and had to be stretchered out. Valdo came in Postiga’s place and the substitute scored in the 76th minute, when he headed a floating cross from Iain Hume to enhance ATK’s margin to 3-1. It could easily have become 4-1, when Bernard Mendy handled the ball and ATK were awarded a penalty. However Javi Lara’s spot kick was brilliantly saved by Apoula Edel. In the 88th minute, Chennaiyin pulled one back, when they were also awarded a penalty and Elano Blumer was bang on target. With time running out, it was difficult for the hosts to find the equalizer as Atletico de Kolkata took ISL 2015’s first match 3-2.