Portuguese striker Helder Postiga netted a brace as defending champions Atletico de Kolkata (ATK) started their campaign on a winning note, beating Chennaiyin FC 3-2 in the Indian Super League (ISL) second season opener at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai on Saturday.
The former Portugal frontman and Cristiano Ronaldo’s one-time teammate Postiga showed his predatory skills with two opportunistic strikes in the 13th and 70th minute while substitute Spanish striker Valdo also found his name on the scoresheet.
For Chennaiyin FC, Jeje Lalpeklhua hit one in the 31st minute while their main player and skipper Elano Blumer got one back by converting a controversial penalty in the 89th minute when the referee awarded the foul when the ball rebounded off ATK stopper Arnab Mondal’s stomach.
However there was some bad news for the ATK fans as Postiga might just be out for a week to 10 days after he pulled a hamstring while scoring the second goal and was stretchered off the field.
ATK skipper Borja Fere nandes said: “Postiga is an important player and I hope that his injury is not serious.”
For the Chennai outfit, the absence of Marco Materazzi, serving a one-match touchline ban from the last season, did have its ill-effects as Chennai left Bruno Melissari and Stiven Mendoza from the starting line-up.
For ATK, Iain Hume was a livewire down the left flank as he tormented Chennai side back Avishek Das.
In fact, all the three goals conceded by Chennaiyin were due to defensive lapses.
In the 13th minute, Borja kept a floater inside the box and a surging goalkeeper Edel Bete collided with Mailson Alves, leaving Postiga with an open net and the scorer of 27 international goals did not disappoint.
In the 31st minute, Elano crossed for Fikru Teferra, who was intercepted by ATK goalie Amrinder Singh, but as the two collided, an unmarked Jeje slotted the ball home.
The second half was played on an even keel till the 70th minute before Frenchman Bernard Mendy’s header towards his own goal gave ATK the lead.
Mendy’s backpass was collected by Postiga, who did his spadework past a defender and then rounded off Bete to make it 2-1 with a neat placement. But as soon as he scored the goal, he was found writhing in pain and was immediately taken off.
His replacement Valmiro Rocha Valdo, also celebrated his first outing on Indian soil with a headed finish when Hume sent a perfectly measured cross from the left.
Mendy and goalkeeper Bete both missed the flight of the ball as Valdo timed his jump to perfection heading it into an open net. The match was into its 76th minute at that point of time.
Mendy, who will be remembered for his famous bicycle kick goal in the first edition had a horrifying 10 minutes where he also conceded a penalty in the 78th minute after he was found to have handled the ball inside the 18-yard box.
However, Bete made amends with a full stretched diving save to his right as he denied Javi Lara from making it 4-1.
Since Elano was not in his element and his free-kicks were way off the mark, Chennaiyin’s attack did not have too much thrust as a dejected Abhishek Bachchan watched his team lose from the VIP stands.
Earlier, a star-studded opening ceremony got the second edition of the tournament underway at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
With a host of celebrities from the worlds of sports and entertainment in attendance, the 30-minute affair had the hordes of spectators at the jam packed stadium enthralled.
The ceremony began with hundreds of children starting the countdown in a colourful manner, which was followed by the unveiling of the flags of all eight ISL franchises.
It was followed by a cultural performance by a group of women dancers showcasing the rich heritage of Tamil Nadu.
Bollywood star Alia Bhatt then injected a dose of glitz and glamour to the proceedings with a power-packed performance before veteran actress Aishwarya Rai Bachchan set the stage alight with her moves.
Later, batting legend and Kerala Blasters co-owner Sachin Tendulkar was called on to the stage where he was joined by ISL founder Nita Ambani, Aishwarya Rai and Alia.
Chennaiyin FC co-owner Abhishek Bachchan hoped that the ISL will provide some much needed momentum to the game in India.
“With the ISL, Indian football will only get better. We can only hope that the quality of the ISL keeps improving every year,” he said on the sidelines of the ceremony.
After music composer-singer AR Rahman put forward a stirring rendition of the national anthem, Nita Ambani set the stage for the action to begin, formally declaring the ISL open.