Kolkata: Atletico de Kolkata survived a torrid time to scrape past Kerala Blasters FC 2-1 in an Indian Super League-II clash at the Salt Lake Stadium yesterday.
ISL's founding chairperson Nita Ambani takes a selfie with Brazil legend Pele (left) and Atletico de Kolkata co-owner Sourav Ganguly at Salt Lake Stadium yesterday
Sitting rather comfortably on a 2-0 lead, with goals on either side of the break by Arata Izumi and Javier Lara, the defending champions were caught unawares by a late Kerala surge. The intense pressure yielded a goal by Englishman Chris Dagnal, and some close calls for ATK, playing before more than 60,000 home fans.
In those moments of close scrutiny, goalkeeper Juan Calatayud Sanchez managed to keep the visitors at bay with some brilliant saves. It ensured the win and took ATK to the top of the table.
It was a period that Pele, who saw some 65 minutes of the match, missed. The tenor of the match between last season's finalists was so different when he left.
Weaving a tapestry of short crisp passes, often punctuated by cheeky skills or the delicate touch, ATK had taken near complete control from the onset.
A Jaime Gavilan Martinez shot came off the Kerala crosspiece five minutes into the match and Izumi drew first blood within a minute, pouncing on the rebound after Canadian playmaker Iain Hume's left-footer came back off 'keeper Stephen Bywater. Kerala had their best chance when right-back Rahul Bheke took advantage of a horrible error from ATK defender Mohanraj and sent a cross that Dagnal just failed to put a foot to at goalmouth.
Javier Lara shines for ATK
Javier Lara, declared Man of the Match, seemed to have sealed the win with a beauty eight minutes into the second half, wriggling past a defender and slotting past the 'keeper with a carpet-hugging angular shot — a deflection off Kerala skipper Peter Ramage adding to the degree of difficulty for the beaten goalkeeper. The visitors had shored up something for that late charge, for they were all over their opponents.
A floater from the right brought the Kerala goal (80th minute), Vineet getting a head to it, Dagnal was at hand to lend a foot and help the ball in. ATK goalkeeper Sanchez tipped the ball away at least thrice that had 'goal' written all over the shots. Dagnal was denied twice and Sanchez Watt once. What looked an easy victory for Sourav Ganguly and the other home fans was a hard-fought one in the end.