It was a strange atmosphere at the Fatorda Stadium for the Indian Super League (ISL 2019-20) final. There was no buzz as the stands stood empty with spectators barred from attending the finale owing to the coronavirus threat.
But when the ball got rolling, football took centre-stage with both teams fighting for every inch. In the end, ATK added a historic third crown with a 3-1 win over Chennaiyin.
Javier Hernandez, goalless in 19 previous matches, scored a brace and sealed the title for the Kolkata side and ensured there was no fairytale at the end of Chennaiyin’s remarkable turnaround this season.
The match got off to a flier with Chennaiyin doing what Chennaiyin knows best: get the ball moving quickly between either side and get its front four into action.
ATK, too, did what it does best: maintain its shape in the 3-5-2 formation and release the ball to find the front two of David Williams and Roy Krishna.
Chennaiyin could have been up by two goals within the third minute but was let down by its finishing – which proved to be its downfall in the end. Rafael Crivellaro’s clipped effort from the edge of the box was headed off the line by Prabir Das in the opening minute, and then Nerijus Valskis’ effort thundered off the crossbar.
Chennaiyin’s attacking football, with a high line had its risks with its two centre-backs, not known for their quickness, and ATK exploited that.
John Johnson played a ball over the top which Krishna chased down ahead of Eli Sabia. Chennaiyin expected Williams to get on the end of the cross but he instead let it run for Javier Hernandez. Chennayin defenders were caught unaware as the midfielder struck the ball on the half-volley, which bounced off the turf and into the net beyond a full-stretched Vishal Kaith.
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Chennaiyin defenders were lunging into tackles on Krishna and Williams, but the duo managed to evade them with ease. Krishna turned inside Goian on the right before setting up Hernandez, whose shot was blocked on the line by a sliding Laldinliana Renthlei.
Krishna’s night, however, came to an early end as he picked up a hamstring injury in the first half. Sousa Mandi came on as his replacement with Edu Garcia moving upfront alongside Williams.
Chennaiyin came knocking around the half-hour mark. Valskis, Crivellaro, Lallianzuala Chhangte and Andre Schembri opened up ATK time and again, but the goal eluded them despite the best of efforts.
Schembri had a give-and-go with Crivellaro, before finding Valskis, who peeled away from his marker inside the box, only to hit it straight at Arindam.
The ATK ‘keeper once again leapt into action, pawing away Valskis’ shot from distance before pushing Schembri’s header wide. Crivellaro danced his way into the box among a crowded ATK defence but his shot could only find the leg of a defender. Chennaiyin finished the half strongly but ATK held on for the whistle.
ATK turned the tables on Chennaiyin again with a goal out of nothing within three minutes of resumption. Williams showcased his strength upfront by shaking off Sabia before finding Garcia’s run. The Spaniard fired home from a narrow angle into the far corner to make it 2-0.
Chennaiyin, undaunted by the misfortunes, continued to press forward but struggled to break down the well-drilled defence. The back three of Sumit Rathi, Johnson and Pritam Kotal hardly put a foot wrong.
In the 67th minute, Antonio Habas took off Michael Regin for Pronay Halder, and within minutes of coming on, the midfielder gave the ball away cheaply, allowing Chennaiyin a ray of hope to claw back into the game.
Laldinliana’s cross from the right was headed down inside the box for Valskis. Chennaiyin’s top-scorer chested it down before unleashing an unstoppable effort to make it 2-1.
It could have been 2-2, if not for Arindam, who got down in time to keep out Valskis’ header from a cross by Sabia on the right.
Manager Owen Coyle brought in Dragos Firtulescu for Andre Schembri with 15 minutes on the clock, but Chennaiyin, despite enjoying the lion’s share of possession, failed to find the elusive elixir that could bring it back in the contest.
Goian moved up as an emergency striker but the equaliser never came as ATK capitalised to add a third in injury time, with Hernandez rounding up the ‘keeper to slot the ball into the net. The shirt came off from the Spaniard and the celebrations soon followed.