The Bengal Tigers battled against the odds to beat hosts Kerala Blasters in the Final…

Atletico De Kolkata (ATK) overcame a spirited Kerala Blasters side to win the cash-rich Indian Super League (ISL) title for the second time in its short history of only three years.

Tale of the Tussle

ATK came from behind to win the coveted Final and showed resilience and character along the way. The night started with both sides trying to sneak up on each other and the match experienced end-to-end attacks right from kick-off. But Kerala Blasters (KBFC) drew first blood with Mohammed Rafi opening the scoring with a trademark header from a corner.

But the lead didn’t last long as ATK came on level terms with a Henrique Sereno header from a corner just before the stroke on half-time. The second half saw a similar fight between the two teams but chances were at a premium in the rest of regulation and extra-time. When it came to penalties, Iain Hume saw his effort well saved by Graham Stack to hand Blasters the edge. But, ATK once again hit back with Elhadji Ndoye missing his strike, while Debjit Majumder decisively saved with his feet from Cedric Hengbart. That left Jewel Raja to convert from the spot to win it for Kolkata and he made no mistake.

Sereno to the Fore

Henrique Sereno was the standout player for Atletico de Kolkata

Henrique Sereno was the standout player for Atletico de Kolkata.

Athletico De Kolkata were not short of heroes last night with each player playing his heart out on the field. But, Portuguese centre-back, Henrique Sereno overshadowed his fellow teammates to deservedly be crowned the Hero of the Match. He not only guided a young ATK defence but also controlled the match situations with his vital interceptions and timely last ditch tackling to stifle all Kerala attacks. Sereno also scored the equalizer just before the interval fooling his marker Sandesh Jhingan. He was rock solid at the back until he was forced out of the game with cramps late on. The defender played part of the second half with a bandaged head after picking up a knock.

Molina-The Master Tactician

Though Jose Molina was always his own man from his very first day at the office, he finally emerged from the shadow of his predecessor Antonio Lopez Habas to script his own legacy. The ATK coach again fielded a team with six changes in the starting XI from the previous match. His game management and tactical awareness was commendable. Two instances from the Final must be mentioned here. Firstly, the decision to bring on Prabir Das in place of Keegan Pereira and replacing Helder Postiga with Javi Lara. Substituting the marquee player of the team in the Final with penalties likely to be needed requires leadership on part of the manager. The substitution did wonders for ATK as Lara did his fair share of tracking back and also brought composure on the ball in midfield.

Team ATK

Atletico De Kolkata again showed their strong mentality and squad depth. Their ‘never say die’ attitude and the huger to achieve high standards resulted in them bringing home the ISL trophy for the second time and the feat was achieved in front of  54,000 hostile and vocal fans against a team which has won their last six games at home. This shows ATK’s mental strength and the quality of the players. They depended not on one player but on the ethos of a collective team. The foreign recruits and local players blended well with Debjit Majumdar pulling off a wonder save in the shootout and Jewel Raja producing a sublime finish to win the title.

As the Bengal Tigers have already followed a definitive plan by holding on to their core group for the last three seasons which has brought them two titles and a semi-final spot last season, if they can do the same next year and replenish the squad with a few new additions, ATK will once again be the team to beat and will be favourites to retain their title.

Editorial by Khel Now’s Kolkata Coresspondent Rajarshi Chowdhury. He loves, travelling, riding bikes and listening to music.