The Spaniard also said he would give opportunities to new players against FC Pune City…

Atletico de Kolkata (ATK) became the first team to qualify for the knockout stages in all three seasons of the Hero Indian Super League with an enterprising 1-1 draw at home against the Kerala Blasters FC. Stephen Pearson scored the all-important goal for the first-season champions, making the scores level in the 18th minute.

Visiting team Kerala Blasters started the game on the front foot, having their first chance in the fifth minute. Three minutes later, Debjit Majumder made a mess of an easy collection, dropping the ball to the ground. Cedric Hengbart turned it away from the melee to CK Vineeth, the striker heading into an open net.

Ten minutes later, ATK got the point they wanted. In one of the best team goals of the season, Kolkata’s attacking pair of Iain Hume and Helder Postiga showed their quality, exchanging a few passes and the Portuguese laying a through-ball for Pearson to strike it past Graham Stack. The game went on in the same rhythm, with none of the two teams creating any major opportunities in the second half.

Speaking to the media after the match, an exultant Molina said: “I am really happy to have qualified for the semi-finals as it was our first aim. We tried to win today but we knew one point would be enough for us to qualify, and we now have a game against Pune and we will try to win against them too, and we will give some new players an opportunity to play and we will give a bit of rest to some players who have featured in a lot of matches.”

Featuring in seven draws this season, the coach answered on the team’s title credentials. Molina said, “Yes, in some places we went wrong like conceding some silly goals and we did not make these mistakes deliberately. The team is working really well and the team is working really hard, and in 13 matches we have only two defeats, so it’s not bad, and in all the matches we played and we tried to win, and sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t. The most important thing is to be in the semi-finals.”

On his toughest opposition, Molina said, “I think the best opponent for me was Delhi and I don’t know why, and I can’t understand why we did not win against Mumbai here but that is football you know, and maybe if we face them again we will try to win.”

With the next game against Pune City FC, Molina would be expecting to go into the knockout stages with a win and some positive momentum. ATK has also helped Delhi Dynamos FC into the knockout stages, with the Lions sitting comfortably with 20 points from 12 games.

Photo © ISL Media

Report by Khel Now Correspondent Kushankur Rony Rakshit. Sports passionate and content writer. He is big football and cricket fan.