This football-obsessed city dreamt of this moment a little more than two months back when country’s first private international football league kickstarted in this city itself among massive fanfare. What made it special was that it was co-dreamt by its loved warrior prince. Atletico de Kolkata started with a stunning opener of Indian Super League and kept the tempo burning...before it hit a plateau from the middle of the season till the end (the precise reason why I haven’t blogged about it so far). It lost its league topper position and the ‘undefeated’ distinction down the way. And then it crawled to the semis. The home match was a disappointment, adding to its increasing list of draw games. When the away match took it to the coveted finals, the dreaming eyes were wide open again.
It was an exciting match with some attacking football. So much so that some moments found the box unguarded at either end. But the ninety minutes didn’t see a single goal again. ATK didn’t have its full strength. Its out-of-form striker Fikru had been dropped from the squad earlier and the skipper and marquee player Louis Garcia had to watch from the sidelines due to a hamstring injury. As injury time started rolling, we got ready for a tie-breaker decider which would fall short of a desired triumph if in our favour. And then..............the moment came from an underdog. The match was over soon. The dream came true. We are the champions of the first ever Indian Super League!
Mohd Rafique, take a bow for that stunner of a header off the measured corner kick that gave us the first ISL and made history. You gave ‘opportunistic’ a new meaning in your replacement stint of those few minutes (Due credit to the coach for this). Despite your short height, you emerged the tallest among all in the evening. And the icing of the cake, again, is the fact that you are from this city.
A shoutout to our ‘wall’ Bete on the goal line too. Had it not been for that incredible save off Kerala’s aggressive striker Michael Chopra, the match would have ended differently.
|ATK coach Antonio Habas and co-owner Saurav Ganguly with the trophy|
And yes, my heart goes to Kerala Blasters. Not because it gave us some wonderful buddy moments with Saurav and Sachin who watched the match from the stands cheering for their respective owned teams, but for the superb football it gave us in the final. If we are the champs, they’re not far off.
I sincerely hope ISL lives the football dream of this nation in every possible way. The eyes will be on spotting and nurturing talent from all corners in for the long term. The euphoria that it has generated is enough to drive that.
Photos sourced from http://www.indiansuperleague.com/