December 14, 2016 10:47:16 pm
Kerala Blasters strode into the final of the Indian Super League (ISL) after a 10-man Delhi Dynamos, in a shocking display, missed thrice in the penalty shootout in their second-leg semifinal here tonight.
Watched by Liverpool legend Ian Rush, Kerala Blasters won the match 3-0 on penalties after the regulation time ended 2-1 in favour of the home side.
Dynamos’ inspirational skipper Folrent Malouda, who otherwise played his heart out in the regulation plus extra time, shot one way above the bar, much to the disbelief of all at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium to leave the hosts trailing in the shootout.
As the scoreline read 2-1 (2-2 aggregate) in favour of Dynamos after 120 minutes of enthralling football, the match went into shootout.
Taking the first shot, Josu Currais put Blasters on their way as he easily beat Antonio Doblas. Then came the turn of Malouda, and what followed, is something he would like to forget in a hurry.
Doblas brought Delhi back into the game when he stopped Antonio German’s attempt with a diving left-handed save. But Delhi were again let down, this time by Bruno Pelissari, who, like his captain, hit it high above the horizontal.
Kerven Belfort kept his cool and took Kerala closer to the final by calmly slotting one past Doblas.
Emerson Gomes de Moura’s shot was met with a brilliant save by Sandip Nandy, the Kerala goalkeeper making amends for his two blunders that led to goals in the regulation time.
Mohammed Rafique then came in and hit it low and perfectly into the bottom left corner to seal the issue in favour of Blasters.
However, the absolute shocker of the match was undoubtedly Malouda’s miss as it was least expected from a man of his experience.
In a repeat of the inaugural edition final two years ago, Kerala Blasters will take on Atletico de Kolkata in the summit showdown in Kochi on Sunday.
Earlier, Marcelinho put Dynamos ahead with a 21st minute strike. Blasters hit back immediately through Duckens Nazon in the 24th minutes. However, Ruben Gonzalez Rocha (45+6) ensured Dynamos went into the breather with a 2-1 match advantage, by finding the back of the net with a header.
After a rather quiet start for the first 20 minutes, the game picked up pace and Marcelinho, the leading scorer of the league so far, struck his 10th goal when he unleashed a left-footed volley in an empty net to leave Blasters custodian Sandip Nandy stranded.
Marcos Tebar played a long ball towards Richard Gadze and Kadio’s clearance was met by Marcelinho’s shot.
Blasters hit back almost immediately as Duckens Nazon ran beautifully through the Dynamos defence before belting the ball past Antonio Doblas off a Josu Currais assist.
More drama was in store as Delhi midfielder Milan Singh was shown a red card for a harsh tackle on his Kerala counterpart Mehtab Hussain. That was soon followed by a yellow to Kimkima for protesting as the referee meant business in this high-voltage encounter.
Down to 10 men, Dynamos were not be bogged down, rather they upped the ante and pressed the Blasters defence. Their relentless attacking game bore fruit when Ruben Gonzalez Rocha headed in a regulation free-kick by Marcos Tebar.
Goalkeeper Nandy again made a hash of it as he failed to read the trajectory of the ball while obstructing his defender Aaron Hughes.
It was a rather entertaining first half barring the first 20 minutes of the game. If the combination of Nandy’s blunder and Marcelinho’s prowess allowed Dynamos to go 1-0, Blasters responded through Nuzon who hit one into the far post.
The marching order to Milan Singh only spiced things up as the stunned Delhi midfielder made his way back into the dressing room waving kisses to the home crowd that had gathered at the venue to support their team.
While Dynamos were relentless in attack and dominated possession, with the home team switching to top gear in the last 15+6 minutes, Blasters looked for openings on the break. However, as the match approached the lemon break, Rocha turned out to be the home side’s hero as he headed in the freekick after a scramble inside the box. On that occasion, Nandy was again at fault.
Blasters had a man advantage, but it were the Dynamos who went into the break with a goal ahead and a 2-2 aggregate.
Dynamos kicked off the second half in earnest as their inspirational skipper Florent Malouda nearly made it 3-2, but for a chip shot that went over the bar. The former French star ran rings around the Kerala defence as he effortlessly made his way through after dribbling past three-four of them, bringing the Delhi crowd on their feet.
Blasters too had their moments, but it were the Dynamos who showed more urgency.
Just before the end of regulation 90 minutes of play, Dynamos initiated another creative move with Marcelinho, down the right, playing the ball to Tebar on the edge of the box. Tebar headed it towards Malouda, but the captain’s header went high.
Meanwhile, in the added time, Blasters’ Haitian recruit Kervens Befort went past Kimkima, only to miss the far post after beating Doblas.
The combo of Malouda and Marcelinho were again at the heart of things but, after Nandy palmed away Malouda’s effort, the Brazilian striker failed to find the much-needed goal.
In the extra time, Malouda and Marcelinho were on the prowl often. Soon, another powerful shot from the Dynamos marquee player was parried away by Nandy.
Meanwhile, Mohammed Rafique, who was a busy man throughout, found space on the right and put in a dangerous looking ball towards Belfort, but Delhi defender Anas Edathodika was equal to the task as he cleared it to safety.
Dynamos’ World Cup winning coach Gianluca Zambrotta made a surprise in the 111th minute, as he replaced Marcelinho with Bruno Pelissari.
Both teams had their fair share of chances in the second half but failed to translate them into goals. While their were many moments, what stood out was the goal-line clearance by Sandesh Jhingan off Malouda’s header. While they could not break the deadlock upfront, both teams looked pretty strong in defence.
Dynamos’ lack of finishing let them down in the second half with Marcelinho also missing out on a couple of occasions, which probably prompted Zambrotta to replace him in the extra time.
In a desperate search of what would have been a match-winning goal, both teams resorted to playing long balls, but the tactic amounted to nothing.
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