Kolkata, co-owned by former Indian cricketer Saurav Ganguli, won the first season of the tournament in 2014 after beating the Blasters, which is co-owned by former team mate Sachin Tendulkar. In that 2014 final, ATK had beaten Kerala Blasters 1-0 in Mumbai. The level of contest between the two teams can be understood from the fact that the winners of the match were only decided after the last shot of the tie-breakers were taken. The team had retained seven of its foreigners – Hume, Postiga, Borja Fernandez, Jose Luis Arroyo “Tiri”, Javi Lara, Sameehg Doutie and Ofentse Nato – from the previous season which not only kept the backbone intact but also gave the players a sense of belonging.
In that sense, it should not come as a surprise that Atletico de Kolkata’s summit clash against Kerala Blasters trudged to the shootout.
With full-to-the-brim crowd egging them on, Kerala started off with a series of attacks but without any serious threat at the ATK goal. In both years, they would go on to lift the ISL trophy. They played 120 minutes in the second leg of the semi-final against Delhi Dynamos, and the four days of rest before Sunday’s final – include a 2,700 kilometer trip down south.
Kerala were seemingly set back in the 36th minute, when captain Aaron Hughes had to substituted through injury by Ndoye, but it was Kerala who scored a minute later, when a corner from Mehtab Hossein met with Rafi, as he jumped higher than the ATK defence to fire his team into the lead. But, they came back in the game through a timely equalising goal scored by Henrique Sereno, which came a minute before half-time. Kerala Blaster would enjoy every moment of playing in front of their home fans who would stand like a rock behind them. ATK coach Jose Molina chose to replace out-of-sorts Postiga with Javier Lara in the 68th minute.
The home side had two close shaves towards the end of the regulation time.