Kerala Blasters struck the match-winner deep into the extra time in a thrilling second leg semifinal to book a berth for the summit clash of the inaugural Hero Indian Super League football tournament on 4-3 aggregate over Chennaiyin FC.
The edge-of-the-seat match ended 3-3 at regulation period and the match went into the extra time as the two teams ended 3-3 on aggregate after the home and away games and Scotsman Stephen Paul Pearson’s 117th minute strike made all the difference at the end.
Kerala Blasters, who barely scrapped into the semifinals, had come into today’s match on a 3-0 advantage from their home win but they were reduced to 10 men in the 28th minute after Jamie McAllister was sent off for his second yellow card for kicking Chennaiyin captain Bernard Mendy.
A tenacious Kerala, however, held onto their defensive solidity which had helped them to come this far and finally emerged victorious in what could be the most pulsating match of the entire tournament to book a place for the summit clash in Mumbai on December 20.
Former France international Mikael Silvestre put Chennaiyin FC ahead in the 42nd minute and they were leading 1-0 at the breather before the drama unfolded in the second half.
2006 World Cup winner Italian and Chennaiyin FC coach-cum-player Marco Materazzi shot his spot kick wide early in the second half in a re-take and then Kerala player Sandesh Jhingan gifted an own goal to the home side in the 76th minute before Jeje Lalpekhlua made it 3-0 for Chennaiyin in the 90th minute.
The match finally ended with 10 men for both sides with Materazzi, who was involved in the infamous headbutt incident with legendary Frenchman Zinedine Zidane in the 2006 World Cup final, was himself sent off in the 104th minute.
Chennaiyin, who made it to the semifinals as league phase table toppers, were the far more superior side throughout the match as they were on one-man advantage from the 28th minute onwards, attacking and creating chances while the visiting team were content with defending and making attacks on the counter.
The home side looked like they would seal the issue in the extra time but it were the Kerala side, co-owned by cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar, who had the last laugh and the home supporters among the 25,000-odd crowd at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, the best attendance here in the ISL, returned home heartbroken.
The match, witnessed by the Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan and his Chennaiyin owner son Abhishek, saw rough play by the rival teams and also incidents of players showing their displeasure on referee’s decision on many occasions.
Chennaiyin put up a heroic performance by wiping out the three-goal deficit from the first leg but finally ended their campaign today.
Chennaiyin found the lead in the 42nd minute from a dead ball situation through a free kick from the left by Materazzi with defender Silvestre heading the ball in to go 1-0 up into the breather.
Throughout the first half, Chennaiyin dictated terms on their opponents but Kerala were able to shock the pressure with only 10 men on the field after Mcallister was given the marching orders.
Chennaiyin doubled the lead through an own goal by Jhingan in the 76th minute. Elano Blumer’s free kick led to a melee at the goal area and Sandip Nandy, who were attended by team doctor twice, had already came out of his charge.
At this stage, Djemba Djemba collected a free ball and shot goalward. Jhingan, thinking that Nady was guarding the goal turned himself and chested the ball towards his goalkeeper, who was out of his charge. Thanks to this misunderstanding Kerala Blasters were shattered totally.
Chennaiyin’s third goal was a beauty and well-planned as Mendy moved to the left and dodged past a couple of defenders before releasing a cross towards the goal and Jeje ran from far right to tap it in.
Chennaiyin went all out for a winner but failed to get it in the regulation time and first 15 minutes of extra time during which Materazzi was red carded (second yellow card) before Pearson’s late strike that seal the issue for Kerala.