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Thursday, November 26, 2020

In his ‘homecoming’, Roy Krishna shows Kolkata the way

Matchday after matchday, when ATK have looked out of depth and out of ideas, when their matches seem to be lulling towards a draw or heading to a defeat, Roy Krishna has come up with moments of inspiration.

Written by Mihir Vasavda | Updated: February 11, 2020 5:21:52 pm
Roy Krishna has scored almost half of ATK’s goals this season – 13 out of 30 they have scored. (Source: ISL)

Roy Krishna’s family was among the thousands of Girmityas who left Kolkata and moved to Fiji. Roughly 140 years later, Krishna, 32, has returned to his ancestral city. And this time, he is taking the city to Asia.

Few players this season have played such a pivotal role for their teams as Krishna has for ATK. Matchday after matchday, when ATK have looked out of depth and out of ideas, when their matches seem to be lulling towards a draw or heading to a defeat, Krishna has come up with moments of inspiration. Like he did last Saturday against Odisha, a team with mathematical chance to book a playoff berth.

After a drab, goalless first half – and with ATK needing a win to keep up with FC Goa (who had defeated Hyderabad 4-1 a couple of days before) in the battle for the top spot – Krishna’s 15-minute hat-trick ensured his side continues to lead the 10-team table.

Both, ATK and FC Goa, have qualified for the playoffs; the only two teams to have done so after defending champions Bengaluru missed their chance by playing out a goalless draw against Chennaiyin FC. But the fight is to become the first Indian team to compete in the Asian Champions League.

As per the rules, the team that tops the table at the end of league stage – and not the ultimate champion, decided after playoff matches – will get the lone spot reserved for India. That battle is going right down to the wire. With two matches remaining, ATK and Goa are level on points and are separated on goal difference (ATK have a four-goal advantage over Goa).

From the Kolkata-based side’s perspective, any slip-up now could be fatal given their last game is away to Bengaluru, who still have an outside chance to qualify for the Champions League. It’s tight, but the only reason ATK find themselves so close an Asian spot is Krishna.

Krishna’s family moved to Fiji to secure a better future for the generations that followed. He’s had that, and much more. The Fiji captain is the only player from his country to score a goal on the FIFA Club World Cup, in the 2013 edition. And despite coming from a nation that’s ranked lower than India in world rankings, Krishna’s talent was noticed and he was signed by New Zealand side Wellington Phoenix, which plays in the Australian top division.

It was a gamble, but worth every penny. Krishna was named the A-League’s best player in the 2018-19 season, winning the golden boot after scoring 18 goals in 25 games; more than any other player. He is close to matching that tally at ATK, and possibly in fewer games. He has scored almost half of ATK’s goals this season – 13 out of 30 they have scored. That he went an entire month, January, without scoring and still is the league’s top scorer, shows the kind of impact he has had.

The race for the Champions League spot, one gets a sense, will eventually come down to the form of ISL’s two most potent strikers – Krishna and Goa’s Ferran Corominas. Both, of course, are helped by strong supply lines in the midfield but in a league where top-class finishers are rare, these two will ultimately decide their team’s fortunes. One bad match for either of them could well rob their team of the top spot, and thus, and Champions League berth. It’s that close.

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Goa have bounced back from a miserable 2017 season because of Coro’s unerring eye for goal. He has been the star of the league for the last two seasons. Now, he is being upstaged by Krishna, whose quest to find his roots has pushed him, his team, and an entire city on the cusp of something big.

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