This city has a special place in Arata Izumi’s heart. A couple of years ago, when his mother came down from Japan to watch him play in the I-League in Kochi, he made it memorable for her by scoring and walking away with the man-of-the match award. The Japan-born midfielder also played for India here.
Izumi had another big reason to be thrilled with Kochi on Tuesday night. Coming in as a 66th minute substitute, he stunningly scored twice in a seven-minute spell as defending champion Atletico de Kolkata defeated Kerala Blasters 3-2 in the Indian Super League’s ninth round at the Nehru Stadium here on Tuesday night.
The victory carried the defending champion Kolkata to the fourth spot in the eight-team table with 13 points while the Blasters, last year’s runner-up, stayed on the last rung with eight.
German’s double in vain
The young Antonio German almost turned out to be the Blasters’ hero, scoring two goals – his first of the ISL – after coming in as a substitute in the 30th minute, but just as the match appeared to be headed to a draw, came Izumi’s closing strike which left the home side and its 60,000 fans disappointed.
Compared to the breathtaking pace the last game was played, the Terry Phelan’s boys, who stuck to their winning 4-3-1-2 system, were a bit slower today. The young Sanchez Watt, the master behind some of the home boys’ exciting moves in the last game, appeared to be carrying an injury and was not at his speedy best. And with Portuguese midfielder Joao Coimbra, who had been unwell yesterday, also starting from the bench, the crosses were fewer.
After its loss in the last game against NorthEast United, Antonio Habas changed Kolkata’s formation from 4-2-3-1 to 3-5-1-1 and the visiting side appeared to be a shade better than the home team in the early stages of the match.
And when the touring side took the lead around the half-hour mark, it caught the Blasters by surprise. While all the action and attention appeared to be on the right, Tamil Nadu’s former international Mohanraj Nallappan crept in from the left and neatly headed home a Jaime Gavilan cross from close range.
German replaced Watt in the 35th minute and his arrival added a lot of spark to the Blasters attack. The young Englishman almost came close to scoring his maiden ISL goal soon after coming in when English striker Chris Dagnall sent a lovely cross from the right but German’s shot narrowly went wide.
But the Blasters did not have to wait long for the equaliser and it came through a penalty in the 42nd minute. Midfielder Josu Currias Prieto ran into the box promisingly and Kolkata defender Denzil Franco, sensing danger, tried to stop him but he did a clumsy job of it and brought down the Spaniard. German coolly converted the penalty with a left-footer to the right corner as the custodian Amrinder Singh went the other way.
The equaliser appeared to lift the home boys, they were a determined lot after the break. Prieto, Dagnall and German combined well and forced the champion’s defence to sweat. The packed stadium roared as German danced past a defender and sent a fiery shot from the left but it was smartly pushed away by goalkeeper Amrinder in the 55th minute. A minute later, Dagnall’s longranger, off a Rafi pass, narrowly went wide.
Phelan brought in Coimbra for Josu in the 64th minute and the seasoned Portuguese raised the tempo of the game again.
But it was Kolkata which took the lead again. A minute after last year’s star Iain Hume had sent the Blasters’ defence into a tizzy and hit the right post, substitute Izumi raced from the left and sent a shot that hit the far post before going in.
But the Blasters found the equaliser soon after. And it was the Englishman German again, scoring off a Rafi pass, with a solid left-footer.
With both the teams desperate for a victory, the match became tight and at this stage, the Blasters defence, which had done a decent job till then, fell under pressure. And the cool and speedy Izumi picked up a cross from South African Sameeng Doutie and tapped it home for the winner in the dying stages of the match.
The result: Atletico de Kolkata 3 (Mohanraj 29, Arata Izumi 84 & 90) bt Kerala Blasters 2 (Antonio German 42 penalty, 85).
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