The ISL final witnessed some rather exceptional performances from the domestic players.
ATK lifted the title for the third time in six seasons of the Indian Super League, proving their dominance yet again by defeating Chennaiyin FC. Kolkata has always been the hotbed of Indian football and ATK have continued to amplify the vogue. Administered by the sturdy Antonio Lopez Habas, the Reds and Whites stamped their authority with a well-planned 3-1 victory over Chennaiyin FC.
This piece isn’t about just overlaying stories that you may have already heard or read, it goes beyond. Here, we take a look at the Indian heroes of the final, irrespective of the side they played for. These players deserve a special mention. They either contributed to their team’s victory or kept their side in the game for as long as they could. Let’s take a look at the names and discuss their performances in detail:
3. Michael Soosairaj
If the semi-final belonged to the right wing-back, the final belonged to the left. Michael Soosairaj may not have created goals or chances aplenty, but he ensured that the opposition did not have a sniff at goal from his side of the pitch. He was persistent in his running and at every opportunity he got he ran with the ball.
Soosairaj might have shown a glimpse of his talent at Jamshedpur FC last season, but has adapted to a new style and produced a defining performance in the showdown, deserves applause. He was tireless and his performance showed why he was tailored down to the last bit by his coach. His positioning was immaculate. The number of clearances he made and the way he found Edu Garcia regularly from tight spots deserves a special mention.
He made just 27 right passes, but the entire team made 251 with an accuracy of 59%, so he had a good contribution to the entire effort. Additionally, they had the last laugh and that’s what matters in the end.
2. Anirudh Thapa
He would have been the showstopper on this list, had he won the game for his side. Describing Anirudh Thapa’s season in words would be unfair, such has been the effect of his ability on his team’s fortunes. After the injury to Germanpreet Singh in the 22nd minute, Thapa sat in the deep-lying midfielder’s role and what a game of football he played. At one point, he just couldn’t make a wrong pass, even on first touches. Inarguably, he was the best Indian on the outfield.
The regularity with which he found Rafael Crivellaro in tight spaces was a joy for Chennaiyin fans and proved why he’s so highly rated by many. His passing percentage of 89% justifies our point. Thapa has been one of the top performers this season and his versatility to play in several styles sets him apart from his contemporaries. This is one top, top lad who can go places!
1. Arindam Bhattacharya
ATK shot-stopper Arindam Bhattacharya would be second on the list had Chennaiyin won the game, but he sure deserved to be on it. After two blunders against Chennaiyin in the group stages, he must have had that at the back of his mind while walking out. Nerves, as they say. Emotional quotients are very important in games such as these and he handled it well.
Facing 11 shots in total, he saved five out of the six that were on target. In a high-pressure game like this against a pressing side that had scored goals by the bucket in their last handful of matches, it was important for the goalkeeper to step up and so he did. After Javi Hernandez, he was the highest-rated player for ATK on the pitch against Chennaiyin. It was his walk of atonement in the best possible way and he stood on the podium after the most crucial 90 minutes of his footballing career.
The Indian fan contingent was hoping for Lallianzuala Chhangte and Prabir Das to continue their good work, but games such as these throw up unlikely heroes. All three are top lads, have proved their ability and could come handy in India’s national team fixtures. The onus, now, is on how Igor Stimac gets the best out of them.