Deja vu lurked in the corner of the Mumbai Football Arena on Tuesday. Two winters ago, a little-known South American by the name of Andre Moritz had managed to steal the spotlight away from the likes of Freddie Ljungberg and Nicolas Anelka with his flair with the ball. He played only seven matches that season, but had three goals, including a hat-trick against FC Pune City, besides a couple of assists.
Two seasons on, Matias Defederico, another South American, albeit from Argentina, has become the creative fulcrum in the Mumbai team, despite the presence of influential striker Diego Forlan.
The Mumbai outfit has been accused of lacking flair in the first two matches of the third edition of the Indian Super League (ISL), but the performance in Tuesday night’s match against Atletico de Kolkata, which ended in a 1-1 draw, was a much better attacking effort, if only for the first half.
In the absence of Forlan, who was out with an injury, the diminutive Defederico excelled in the attacking midfielder role which Moritz had made his own in the inaugural edition for Mumbai.
Defederico started the first half on the left flank, often drifting into the centre, right behind Boithang Haokip. The latter could have scored thrice in the first half itself, thanks to through balls from the fleet-footed Argentine. One of these passes led to Haokip running with the ball in acres of space but his shot came off the crossbar. Only minutes ago, his run had been foiled by the Kolkata goalkeeper Debjit Majumdar after a similar Defederico through ball.
Soon, a defensive mistake from Arnab Mondal allowed Defederico to have the ball in Atletico’s final third and the Argentine ran at the Atletico defence before finishing off the move with a calm shot into the bottom right corner.
On the other end of the pitch, forward Iain Hume was having a quiet evening, often having to drop deep till the half-way line to see the ball before his night ended in the 46th minute as he was replaced with Stephen Pearson. The substitution changed the dynamic of the match as Kolkata moved more players into the midfield to stifle Mumbai’s attacking verve.
Defederico also became a lightning rod for fouls in the second half with Atletico defenders pairing up to keep him quiet.
Humdrum descended onto the pitch in the second half, broken only in the last 20 minutes when Mumbai’s Pranoy Halder was sent off, thereby giving Atletico the numerical advantage which they exploited to mount attack after attack on Mumbai’s goal. Their persistence paid off in the 82nd minute when Javi Lara’s shot deflected off a Mumbai player to soar into the Mumbai goal.
Mumbai manager Alexandre Guimaraes said in the post-match press conference that he wasn’t sure whether Forlan would be available to play in Mumbai’s next match and that the team was looking for a striker given Sunil Chhetri was still with Bengaluru FC and Gaston Sangoy was ruled out of the ISL due to an injury.
The onus then will again be on Defedrico and forward Sony Norde, who made a quiet substitute appearance on Tuesday.
Result: Mumbai 1 (Matias Defederico) drew with Atletico de Kolkata 1 (Javi Lara)