Synopsis: After a mediocre first half, Kerala Blasters upped their game in the second period to beat North East United 3-1 in their opening match. Little-known Spaniard Josue Currais masterminded Kerala’s win in a match where marquee players of both teams sat out due to injuries.
Attack was Kerala Blasters’ Achilles Heel last season. They struggled to score goals in the early part of the group stage, with Iain Hume coming to their rescue on most occasions. But the Canadian’s move to Atletico Kolkata left Kerala in a spot. Their manager Peter Taylor subsequently revamped the attack, retaining none of their frontline men from last season. For the first 45 minutes, the packed stadium would have started fearing the repeat of last season’s scrappy attacking play once again as Kerala failed to conjure any meaningful move.
They only managed two shots on goal, both attempts easily thwarted by North East United goalkeeper TP Rehenesh. But it all changed in the second half. Goals from Josue Currais (Josu), Mohammad Rafi and Sanchez Watt ensured last season’s runners up began their campaign in style, with a 3-1 win over North East United at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi.
Josu controls midfield
With their marquee player Carlos Marchena injured, Josu controlled the play for Kerala. A product of Barcelona’s youth academy, his play-making abilities were eventually the difference between the two sides. The 22-year-old has also played for the youth side of Espanyol, before making short pit stops in Finland, Italy and Poland.
Josu was Kerala’s go-to man in the pre-season friendlies as well, where he had forged a good relationship with former Arsenal player Watt. The duo combined well once again, and were supported well by India’s CK Vineeth and Rahul Bheke, whose long throw ins set-up his team’s opening two goals.
The first goal came in the 49th minute, when the Mumbai FC right-back launched a long throw in, which was headed on by Bruno Perone. Vineeth attempted a bicycle kick but he failed to connect properly. Josu followed up and volleyed it into the top corner from just inside the box. Kerala doubled their lead with another Bheke long throw in the 69th minute, this time directed towards captain Peter Ramage.
The former Crystal Palace and QPR defender glanced it towards Rafi, who headed it in from close range. The hosts tripled their lead in the 71st minute after Watt’s strike between through Rehenesh’s legs, ending North East’s hopes of making a comeback.
North East’s troubles continue
North East United will once again rue the fact that despite being fiercely competitive and technically superior than their opponent, they have nothing to show for it. They controlled long spells of play but looked directionless moving forward. Absence of their marquee player Simao Sabrosa severely hurt them as they lacked leadership on field.
Injury suffered by Spaniard Miguel Garcia mid-way through the first half further dented their hopes.
Seasoned foreign signings too failed to make an impact. Diomansy Kamara was largely anonymous on field and gave the ball very cheaply while Cedric Hengbart could not organise his defence and was caught out of position on several occasions. To make things worse for them, their Indian players could hardly make presence felt.
These were the exact reasons why North East finished at the bottom of the eight-team table. Unless their coach Cesar Farias changes things drastically, the team looks to be facing similar fortune this season as well.
Postiga ruled out for four weeks
Kolkata: Atletico de Kolkata’s marquee player Helder Postiga was ruled out for three to four weeks. The three-time Portuguese World Cupper, who made a stunning debut for ATK scoring a brace in their 3-2 win over Chennaiyin FC in ISL opener October 3, was stretchered off the field and rushed to the hospital after pulling a muscle.“The MRI report revealed a strain in his muscle and we referred it to Atletico de Madrid. His personal doctor suggested he should return home and we’re ruling him out for three to four weeks,” an ATK statement said.