Synopsis: Portuguese striker Helder Postiga scores a brace in defending champions Atletico de Kolkata’s 3-2 win over Chennaiyin FC in ISL opener at Marina Arena, Chennai. However, a hamstring injury he suffers while scoring his second goal takes some sheen off their win.
Postiga in paradise, then pain
While unveiling Helder Postiga as their marquee player, Atletico de Kolkata manager Antonio Lopez Habas had described the Portuguese as a ‘fitter and younger’ replacement for Spaniard Luis Garcia. It was hard to disagree with Habas. At 33, Postiga can’t be labelled as ‘old’ — at least compared to other marquee players in the league.
And for a little more than an hour in his side’s opening match against Chennaiyin FC on Saturday, Postiga proved his manager right. He gelled seamlessly with the team and like Garcia last season, marshaled the defending champions well on field. He looked sharp, made sneaky runs behind Chennaiyin defence and scored opportunistic goals. He didn’t have to wait long for his first goal on Indian soil. In the 13th minute, Kolkata captain Borja Fernandes played a floating ball inside the box. A surging Chennaiyin goalkeeper Edel Bete collided with defender Mailson Alves and the ball slipped from his grasp. Postiga just had to tap the ball in and the scorer of 27 international goals did not disappoint.
The Portuguese continued to trouble the Chennai defence while making sure his side did not lose shape. In the 70th minute, he latched on to a defensive mistake by Bernard Mendy and slotted home his, and Kolkata’s, second goal. However, in the process, he pulled his hamstring and had to be stretchered off. Habas stood on the sidelines, concerned and suddenly, his description of Postiga as a ‘fitter and younger’ player looking a bit exaggerated.
The hosts depended on striker Fikru Teferra, who played for Kolkata last season, to bring them back in the contest. The Ehtiopian scored last ISL’s first goal, and enhanced his reputation by continuing his fine run deep into the tournament.
But he was all over the place on Saturday. He was indecisive inside the box, missed a few clear chances and lacked in anticipation.
Chennaiyin’s main man Elano set him up beautifully in a one-on-one situation with the goalkeeper just before half time, but Fikru could not read the pass and it eventually led to nothing.
It wasn’t the only time he goofed up. Ultimately, Marco Materazzi had to replace him with Stiven Mendoza at the hour mark. More than him, it was India striker Jeje Lalpekhlua who looked promising. Jeje, who will head to Turkmenistan with India for the World Cup qualifier later in the week, became the first Indian goalscorer of this season in the 30th minute. Elano played a ball towards Fikru at the far post. Kolkata goalkeeper Amrinder Singh came off his line and blocked the striker’s header but the rebound fell at Jeje’s feet, who tapped it in.
Mendy fails to mend his ways
With scores level, Chennaiyin manager Marco Matterazi perhaps thought he would be useful in the attack as much as in his primary role as a defender. Back in France Mendy is the butt of quite a few jokes for his error-prone game.
The 33-year-old French defender is the longest-serving player for French giants PSG, having played there for eight years from 2000, notching up 189 appearances. Yet, he has been a rather unknown quantity not just in Europe but also in his country.
Arsenal’s French manager Arsene Wenger’s, ‘sorry who?’ remark when asked about Mendy, who then played for Bolton Wanderers, summed up his career.
Last season, Mendy reminded people of his class, showcasing pace and technical nous which kept him at PSG for so long. But on Saturday, he proved them all right. He had a forgettable evening since coming on at half-time in place of Brazilian Mailson Alves.
In the 70th minute, he tried to play the ball back to goalkeeper Edel. But the weak attempt was intercepted by Postiga, who finished the move by nut-megging Edel. Minutes later, Mendy handled the ball inside the box, giving referee Matt Conger no choice but to award Kolkata the penalty.
Fortunately for him and his side, Javi Lara’s feeble effort was saved by Edel. Elano converted a controversial penalty in the 89th minute to give Chennaiyin hope to salvage a point, but Kolkata held on to begin their title defence with a win.
Full time: Chennayin 2 (Jeje 13, Elano 89) lost to Atletico de Kolkata 3 (Postiga 13, 70, Valdo 76)
Playing today: FC Goa vs Delhi Dynamos, 7pm on Star Sports 2
Delhi agree to release players
Delhi Dynamos have reluctantly agreed to release three Indian players on their roster for national duty but only after chief coach Stephen Constantine put his foot down. Delhi, who play FC Goa on Sunday, were keen that Robin Singh, Sehnaj Singh and Francis Fernandes play their opening match.
They were mulling the option of sending the trio directly to Dubai on October 5 despite the AIFF ordering the ISL players to release the players on October 4.
It is learnt that Constantine spoke with Delhi management on Saturday and insisted the trio be released as decided. Facing sanctions had they failed to do so, Delhi decided to accept AIFF’s demand.
The three players are a part of India’s squad for the World Cup qualifier against Turkmenistan and Oman, which will be played on October 8 and 13 respectively.