Atletico de Kolkata, Kerala Blasters set for supercharged ISL final
A high voltage clash between Atletico de Kolkata and Kerala Blasters promises to provide the perfect finale to the inaugural Indian Super League in Mumbai on Saturday.sports Updated: Dec 20, 2014 04:05 IST
The poster covering the breadth of a mall here stood out because the focus was on a Chennaiyin FC player who has gone home. Just as those stood up on either side of the NH 17 in Goa that made Andre Santos look larger than life.
Both asked who would be the first champion of the Indian Super League (ISL). While that would be known only on Saturday evening at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai, this much is clear - it won't be either Elano Blumer or Santos.
A side unbeaten in nine games hasn't come through, Kerala Blasters' marquee player and manager David James pointed out. What he didn't say was that a team that hasn't won from open play in eight has.
That's just one of the unusual things about the first ISL which ends here over two months after beginning with a bang in Kolkata. There will be some travelling fans but the teams with the biggest following in the ISL will be playing in front of a largely neutral but sold out stadium seating 37,500. In a lot of ways, even those who have excelled in the world's most developed football countries have found this more than a discovery of India.
"There are no reserve teams, no reserve fixtures list and matches every three days," said James. Never having had to juggle six imports and five Indians in a playing 11, Atletico de Kolkata coach Antonio Lopez Habas, 57, said this has been a learning experience.
Yet James said the competition has been wonderful and with only the ISL trophy separating them on the dais at Friday's media interaction, Atletico de Kolkata skipper Luis Garcia said he hoped the league would only get better.
So on to the final where Atletico de Kolkata's Spanish armada will be pitted against a Kerala Blasters whose bunch of imports look like a union of nations. Josemi, Borja Fernandez and Garcia make up the spine of this Atletico de Kolkata team with Joffre Gonzalez providing support when needed. They direct play and their players.
Josemi has played every minute of the competition often showing why Liverpool reposed so much faith in him once upon a time. He is often seen telling Arnab Mondal, his partner in central defence, where to position himself. Ditto Fernandez to Oftense Nato with whom he forms such a crucial pair in central midfield and Garcia to Mohammed Rafi, Baljeet Sahni and Sanju Pradhan. This, after all, is about the development of Indian football.
"I think we have the best Indian players. When I choose the 11, it is not always about nationalities," said James. "The good thing for my Indian players is that they realised they had to adapt to our ways and not the other way round," said Habas.
Gurwinder Singh (Blasters), Rakesh Masih (Atletico de Kolkata) will be two Indians missing what the final due to suspension and injury respectively. Kerala Blasters' defender Cedric Hengbert too is doubtful because of injury.
"This will be the biggest night in Indian football," said James. He was right even if it means that an Indian won't be lifting the trophy.