By: Rajeeb Mukherjee
The weekend crowd had barely settled into their seats when Delhi Dynamos hit home. A short-corner routine from Alessandro Del Piero was pushed towards Wim Raymaekers and the defender’s rising left-footer from the edge of the box beat the outstretched hands of Chennaiyin FC goalkeeper Gennaro Bracigliano. It was just over a minute on the clock.
Up stood Marco Materazzi, Chennai’s player-cum-manager. He walked to the edge of the technical area and there he remained standing, arms folded across his chest, for the next 40 or so minutes. Not shouting, nor remonstrating, just occasionally passing on the instructions. There was no hand gesture, no signs of displeasure, nothing that one could identify with a man who has been physically intimidating on the pitch during his playing days.
There were no external signs of emotion even after his team conceded the second goal, Mads Junker diving in to nod home Steven Dias’ delightful ball from the right in the 21st.
His defence though was in a shambles. The backline could not come to terms with the early lapse and from then on they were playing catch up. Materazzi ‘knowing and not knowing’ Del Piero had a large part in that.
The Juventus icon and Indian Super League’s ambassador was largely kept quite, with defenders closing on him every time he had the ball. But here, perhaps, Chennai missed the trick. With Del Piero soaking up and sucking in the pressure, it left a gaping hole at the back. And with Dias working the right flank tirelessly, the defence was further stretched. Dias would also play a part in the third goal for Delhi, his cut back for Shylo Malsawmtulanga fetching the penalty that Bruno Herrero converted in the 79th. This was 10 minutes after Elano produced another stunning free-kick. Not even Kristof Van Hoult, one of the world’s tallest goalkeepers, could stop it, despite getting a fingertip to it.
In between the two goals Del Piero left. He had been reduced to a walking pace after the half hour mark, but he had done enough to help his team coast to a 4-1 win —the last goal a solo effort from Gustavo Dos Santos in time added on – its first in the ISL. He may not have the legs but still possesses plenty of intellect to outwit Chennai and their coach, with whom he had shared the Italian dressing room on a number of occasions in the past.
Del Piero would hold on to the ball just a wee bit longer, allowing his players to gather their wits and position around him. How Materazzi would have loved to cut him down, but the 6’3 Italian chose not to, and instead kept watching from the sidelines.
This was his learning curve. After two wins the defeat would rankle, but Materazzi knows how to handle his nerves, he gave plenty of glimpses into it at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Saturday evening. For someone who loves to play with the mind, for once he has been outwitted. He is not going to forget that in a hurry.