The Yellow Army are looking to avenge their defeat in the 2014 Final against Atletico de Kolkata…
Kerala Blasters were the finalists of the inaugural season of the Indian Super League where they lost 1-0 to Atletico de Kolkata, all thanks to super-sub Mohammed Rafique’s last minute goal for the Bengal Tigers. Unlike the first season, the Yellow Army finished bottom of the table next year with just 13 points in their basket having lost seven matches. This season both teams are once again set to meet in the Final, but this time Rafique will be seen in the yellow jersey. The Blasters defeated Delhi Dynamos on penalties after a 2-2 aggregate scoreline over the two legs in their semi-final, while Kolkata has entered the showpiece by defeating Mumbai City FC.
A Slow Start
Blasters started the season on a disappointing note as they suffered back-to-back defeats in their first two matches against NorthEast United FC and Kolkata, but they managed to get a point against Delhi in the next match. Their first win of the season came against Mumbai where they edged out the Islanders 1-0. Their next three matches were away, where they first drew 1-1 with FC Pune City, later Kervens Belfort’s late strike helped them to trounce FC Goa and it was a goalless draw against last year’s champions Chennaiyin FC. Overall they grabbed just eight points from their first seven matches and finished in the bottom half at the halfway point of the season.
They started the second half with a 2-0 defeat against Dynamos but two back-to-back wins against Goa and Chennaiyin kept their playoffs hopes alive. When it was looking like the Yellow Army will easily make it into the top four, Mumbai took revenge of their defeat in the teams’ first meeting by trashing them 5-0. However, they managed to get all three points against Pune and drew 1-1 against Kolkata to stay on track. In their last match Kerala emerged victorious as they secured a narrow 1-0 win over the Highlanders and qualified for the semi-finals with 22 points finishing second on the table.
This season most ISL teams missed a few Bengaluru FC players who were scripting their own history in the AFC Cup. For Blasters, scoring goals was a major problem in the first half of the season and therefore the absence of striker CK. Vineeth was particularly felt. Scoring the winner in the final minute against FC Goa upon his comeback, the forward could not have scripted a better fairy-tale. It is little wonder than that his return to the fold came as a godsend for the Kochi outfit.
Vineeth has been the catalyst for Blasters’ revival this season.
Since the arrival of the Bengaluru star, Blasters started finding goals on a regular basis in stark contrast to earlier in the campaign. The frontman was high on confidence after playing for BFC in the continental tournament’s showpiece. After missing the first eight matches for Kerala, Vineeth returned against the Gaurs and has scored five goals in eight games since, including a brace against Chennaiyin and the winner against the Highlanders.
Finding Home Comforts
Home form has always been crucial in the ISL. Blasters possess arguably the best fanbase in the league with a partisan gathering of 55,000-strong turning out at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium to cheer on the team at their home games. Kerala have given their loyal fans much to cheer about and indeed the uplift in their form at home has been a key factor in their revival this season. With six wins in their last six home games the JLN in Kochi has certainly been turned into a fortress of sorts. Blasters, will thus draw comfort from the fact that they will do battle with ATK for the crown at this bastion.
Coppell’s Calm Leadership
Steve Coppell’s calm leadership has also been one of the major reasons behind Kerala’s success in the league. When other managers like Zico and Nelo Vingada lost the plot after their teams stopped getting results, the Englishman stayed calm and retained confidence in his team. Even when Mumbai humiliated them 5-0 he continued to believe in his team which was repaid in full.
The Final is also billed as a clash between two former Indian cricket teammates Sachin Tendulkar (co-owner of Kerala Blasters) and Sourav Ganguly (co-owner of ATK). It was Ganguly who had the last laugh in 2014 but this time Tendulkar’s side will go all out to seal their maiden ISL title.
Interestingly, ATK are the only team to have beaten Blasters in Kochi when the teams met earlier in the season. Kolkata may well have the personalities to cope with the intimating atmosphere that will face them on Sunday. But, with the added incentive of the title at stake, buoyant Blasters will need no more motivation to cap off a memorable campaign with a historic win in front of their legion of passionate fans.
Editorial by Khel Now Correspondent Ravish Narvekar from Goa. A true Football enthusiast & a diehard Liverpool fan. Ravish also enjoys travelling & he’s an avid foodie.