In a repeat of last year’s final, defending champions ATK were held out to a goalless draw by the revamped Kerala Blasters team. In spite of playing with the home crowd advantage, Blasters never really looked in a dominant position. Neither did their opponents.
In spite of featuring some big names including Manchester United legend Dimitar Berbatisl and league’s top goal-scorer Iain Hume, the match continued to be a dull affair throughout 90 minutes. Playing for the first time on an Indian ground, Berbatov never really looked comfortable on the ball and was remained almost invisible on the field.
ATK found some energy late in the second half but were in spite of a number of chances, they were unable to go past the defensive duo of Nemanja Lakic Pesic and Sandesh Jhingan. Kolkata’s Jose Branco struck the goal-post in the 71st minute, which remained the best chance of the match. Indian striker Robin Singh, who replaced Njazi Kuqi in the 61st minute, also could not provide much-needed energy to his side. He found some pocket of space late in the game but was stopped in his tracks by Blasters’ defensive forces.
Pesic was honoured with the Hero of the match award for his efforts. Speaking after the match, the defender said, “The most important thing for us is that we kept the clean sheet, that we didn’t concede the goal. I hope we’ll be better in the next games.” He added that he was amazed to see the huge crowd in the stadium. “The fans are incredible. I didn’t expect such a huge crowd and noise. This is magnificent, unbelievable really.”
Kerala will now take on Mumbai City FC on December 3 at home, while ATK will take on Pune City FC at home next Sunday.