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Battle of I-League newcomers ends goalless

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Both teams failed to create many clear opportunities...

The Battle of the I-League Newbies ended goalless at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Sunday evening as both teams struggled to create the final killer pass. Avoiding a defeat might have been the top of the agenda for either team in their first top-flight game in history but, given Chennai City's talent pool, Minerva Punjab could have boarded their flight back home in the wake of a defeat.

City gaffer remained tight-lipped regarding signings on Saturday night, but the team sheet surprised many, with the home side featuring many I-League veterans. His team selection paid off as the JL Nehru Stadium outfit came close to beating Minerva goalkeeper Ravi Kumar on the fifth minute when Lalnun Mawia and Charles de Souza caused chaos in the visitors' penalty area after the referee shrugged off Haroon Amiri's penalty appeal.

Mawia continued to tantalize the Minerva defense as he registered the game's first shot on target only a few minutes later after some superb orchestrating from Afghanistan midfielder Amiri. With Amiri, Mawia and Das being inventive eager beavers, Raja's side started the game on the front foot with Brazilian Charles mastering hold-up play upfront.

Manandeep Singh almost put the visitors ahead with a thunderous effort from 12 yards after Joel Sunday outmuscled Joseph Clemente to spray a pass to the unmarked Minerva skipper. However, quick reflex from the Chennaiyin loanee guarding the City goal ensured the first 30 minutes remained goalless.

City continued to be astute going forward throughout the first half as Amiri set up arguably the easier chance of the game after receiving a superb forward pass from Dhanpal Ganesh only for Charles to squander yet another chance. The ball eventually fell onto Mawia's path, with the left winger having only Ravi to beat, but he fired straight at the Minerva 'keeper as either team continued to search for an equalizer.

CHENNAI CITY FC AND MINERVA PUNJAB FC SHARE POINTS

Despite City's passing and excellent reading keeping Minerva the second best team in the pitch through the course of the first half, Minerva managed to grow into the game, with the home side seemingly huffing and puffing.

To shake things up, Minerva manager Surinder Singh sacrificed Gurjinder Singh to bring on Ravindrakumar Vishal Kumar on 46 minutes. City's Raja followed the suit on 52 minutes as he took off youth player Mawia to introduce former Valencia academy player Darren Caldeira.

Amir's free role kept City's goal-scoring chances alive in the second half, however, with the Warriors marauding the City half more in the second half with the aid of Victor Amobi, under-22 player Uttam Rai and Sunday, the men in yellow and green were forced to defend with eight men; only Charles and Amiri possessed attacking instincts as the game cruised toward a goalless draw.

The 71st minute saw another Zakeer Mundampara join the party as Abhishek Das walked off. With 15 minutes left, Manandeep strolled off the pitch to make way for under-22 player Krishna Pandit as the Minerva coach seemingly wanted to change the pace of the game with youngsters. Despite Pandit's exuberance, the game looked destined to be goalless, as the players looked gassed, except for a handful.

Marcos Tank replaced compatriot Charles with just a few minutes left, with Raja's move looking promising. Tank's physical presence can definitely unsettle the tired Minerva defense, but the substitution was made a few minutes too late as Minerva were desperately looking for a breakthrough on the other end.

Both teams fought for an equalizer till the end, but their being tired meant that a goalless draw could only be the result.

Amiri's prominence is certain to prevent the Chennai-based I-League newbie from becoming the division's punching bags. Additionally, for teams assembled in 20 days, both teams played some fantastic football. Despite the result, both teams boast a fair chance of securing a mid-table finish, by the looks of things.

However, thanks to I-League being under-promoted and underrated, less than 1000 fans showed up, with the majority being under-10 boys, who can often be seen clamoring free tickets during ISL games.  End-to-end high temp game remained unnoticed in a city that cheers in unison every time Bernard Mendy hoofs the ball up.

Published: Sun Jan 08, 2017 08:49 PM IST

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