Title contenders Chennaiyin FC will start as favourites when they take on Kerala Blasters in the first semifinal of the hugely successful Hero Indian Super League football tournament, on Saturday.
Chennai have been the most consistent side in the tournament and they would start the match with a psychological advantage even in front of the vociferous home supporters as they had won both the league matches against Kerala.
The Abhishek Bachchan-owned side ended the first half of the league phase on joint top position with Atletico de Kolkata but took the sole lead quickly and it did not relinquish it for the rest of the season.
They lost league top-scorer Elano Blumer of Brazil and the team’s second-leading scorer Stiven Mendoza to injury, but another Brazilian Bruno Pelissari stepped in to fill the void and scored some spectacular goals to ensure the Chennaiyin juggernaut rolled on.
Chennaiyin possessed lethal firepower as they have scored the maximum goals — 24 — in the league by any side. Kerala, in comparison, have struggled massively with only nine strikes, the lowest among the semi-finalists.
Kerala have been inconsistent throughout the tournament and rode on their defensive solidity into the top four. David James’ side conceded just five goals in seven matches in the latter half of the league.
The Sachin Tendulkar co-owned team scraped through to the semifinals with a slender 1-0 win over Pune City FC in their last match.
Kerala, however, will be hoping to maximise their home advantage as their loyal supporters are expected to pack the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium once again tomorrow just like they have been doing in their seven earlier home games.
Chennaiyin lost some of the momentum towards the end of the league stage as they lost twice in their last four matches and managed just one win and that would give Trevor Morgan’s players a reason of hope of coming out on top on Saturday.
“We are confident against Chennai. They are not in great form recently,” said James, the former England goalkeeper. The return leg of the semifinal will be held in Chennai on December 16.
Fikru joins injury list
Kolkata: Atletico de Kolkata found themselves grappling with injury woes ahead of their semifinals against FC Goa on Sunday with their main forward Fikru Teferra added to the list of doubtful starters due to a side strain.
Fikru, who did not train with the team on Friday, joined Arnab Mondal (twisted ankle), Biswajit Saha and Jofre Mateu (both niggles) in the injury list. All four appear doubtful starters for the home leg semifinals at the Salt Lake Stadium as the team think tank is awaiting their respective MRI reports.
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