The Kolkata franchise will face ISL rivals FC Goa in the main round of the tournament.
ATK showed glimpses of their past brilliance when they routed Chennai City FC by a 4-1 margin in the final qualifier of the Hero Super Cup at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Friday. Hitesh Sharma’s opener alongside three second-half strikes from Zequinha, Ashutosh Mehta and Robbie Keane secured ATK a pre-quarterfinal berth, whereas Chennai only had a lone Jean Michael Joachim goal to their name.
Present in the post-match press conference from the winner’s end was their caretaker coach and captain Robbie Keane, who began by describing how the game unfolded for his team. “The team played really well and we dominated the game for most of the first half,” he inferred. “But a slight blip in our concentration and they made full use of it and score the goal before halftime. Sometimes a goal just before the halftime can be really heartbreaking, but I spoke to the players and we regrouped and did well in the second half. We controlled the game well in the second half. There was a spell in the second half where we got a little sloppy in possession, but we tried to do the right thing, keep the shape and keep moving the ball. And thankfully we got the four goals.”
Chennai had equalised at the stroke of half-time to ATK’s dismay but the team turned the tables on the second half by slotting home three more. When asked what the talk in the dressing room was about during the breather, the Irishman shared, “We were disappointed. The last thing you want to do is to concede a goal just before halftime. Usually, the team tends to go down and lose the morale. I had to remind them that it was just 1-1 and we had dominated the game till then. And that’s what we did. We played well and scored a few goals. It was good.”
After a dismal run in Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2017-18, where they finished ninth and also saw the resignation of two coaches, ATK is still to lose a match under the management of Keane. Speaking on this subject, he added, “I am asked to do a job. I am not afraid of challenges, I have never been as a player. So, when the club needed someone to step in, I did. I don’t like losing. So, whether I am a player or a manager the mentality is to win. I am just happy with the performance.”
Mohammed Akbar attended the media session from Chennai’s end and admitted that individual errors cost them the match. Elaborating on the loss, he said, “I think after the second goal. Our blunders cost us the game. First of all, ATK came up good against us. This was a much more exciting game to watch. No disrespect to the other teams, but I thought this game saw hunger from both the teams to win. They scored first and we equalized. Then we had a good passage of play and I was pleased with the way we passed the ball and made the most of the opportunities. The second goal came because of our mistake. The defender let the ball through his feet. That was the demoralizing bit. They made the most of it and made us pay. We tried as much we could. I threw players ahead, but that didn’t help.”
Before leaving, Akbar also shared what the road ahead would be like for his team in the near future. “This is the beginning. We are looking at players, we are looking at how to rebuild what we have. I am happy that we could play against ATK. That showed us our level. We were good till the hour mark, till we conceded the second goal. And that’s a good thing for me. Now I know where to start the rebuilding,” he concluded.