The Yuva Bharati Krirangan had gone unusually quiet as Mumbai City FC mounted a series of raids in their pursuit of an equaliser. The first half of the ISL opener at Salt Lake on Sunday belonged to Atletico de Kolkata, who took the lead in the 27th minute, thanks to a chip from their Ethiopian striker, Fikru Teferra. But Mumbai came back strong after the break and had the hosts under serious pressure.
Things became nervy and silence descended. Then there was the moment of spark that got Atletico Kolkata and their supporters going again. Intercepting a loose ball about 20 yards out, Borja Fernandez unleashed a stunning volley that flew into the back of the net. The former Real Madrid man raised his hands towards the sky, while the 60,000 fans stood up to acknowledge a special effort. From that moment onwards, it was an easy ride for the home team who won the game 3-0, with substitute Arnal Carbo adding the icing to a well-baked cake by scoring deep in injury time.
“We need to win the match to capture the imagination of the city,” Atletico de Kolkata coach, Antonio Lopez Habas, had said on the match eve. His boys obliged and the former Valencia coach was a very happy man. “It was a good game. The players were fantastic and also the fans. But we need such support in our away games too.”
Luis Garcia, captain and the team’s marquee signing, was undoubtedly the standout performer. He set up the first goal with a delightful assist that sliced open the Mumbai defence. In fact, the midfielder, a Champions League winner with Liverpool, was the difference between the two sides. He provided the creativity that Mumbai lacked.
Despite the overwhelming heat and humidity, the game was played at a decent pace. Some mistimed tackles, however, kept referee Christopher Penso busy. He flashed his yellow card a total of six times — thrice to each side. But on the field, it was Kolkata that won more brownie points, looking far more organised following their month long training camp in Madrid.
Mumbai, on the other hand, appeared to be a little under-cooked. Without Nicolas Anelka (serving a three-game ban due to his quenelle gesture while at West Bromwich Albion) and Freddie Ljungberg (out injured), Mumbai’s chances depended on playing cohesive football. But they failed to gel well for the better part of the game.
To make matters worse, skipper Syed Rahim Nabi hobbled off the pitch on 39 minutes after twisting his ankle. Coach Peter Reid now has his task cut out. Although it was just the first game and much can’t be read into it, Mumbai’s defence didn’t inspire confidence — Manuel Friedrich’s presence notwithstanding. But for Subrata Paul’s saves, the margin of defeat could have been bigger.