ISL final: Hyderabad brings the blues to Kerala

Hyderabad FC goalkeeper Laxmikant Kattimani saved three penalties in the tiebreaker and won his first Indian Super League title. This was after the final against the Kerala Blasters on Sunday failed to provide a winner in 120 minutes of football. Hyderabad, who is just three seasons old, came last in their maiden ISL campaign and missed the playoffs by two points last year. They first scored a late equalizer to make it 1-1, before winning from the penalty spot.

For Kerala, it was a third defeat in the ISL final, having stumbled over the finish line in 2014 and 2016 as well.

A nearly capacity stadium in Margao was largely packed with supporters from Kerala, who had made the 15-hour bus journey to the capital of Goa. In the first 10 minutes, neither team was able to string together a passing streak. Nerves and the first instance of a crowded stadium this season seemed to be taking their toll. But even then, the outlines of Kerala’s game plan began to take shape.

Hyderabad full-backs Akash Mishra and Ashish Rai have always been enterprising this season, carrying the ball from behind, cutting through the middle of the park and then providing their side with outlets to extend play in the final third of the game. ground. Kerala planned and to some extent countered this threat, also pushing their players away, leaving no space for the two to start galloping with the ball.

But as the game opened up after a boring first 30 minutes, so did the space in midfield. Hyderabad striker Bartholomew Ogbeche, in the 37th minute, threw a pass to midfielder Joel Chianese from the right of the park. Joel then fired in a cross but the ball went too far. At the other end, Blasters midfielder Adrian Luna threw a pass into the Hyderabad penalty area. After a few poorly timed headers, the ball landed at the feet of striker Alvaro Vazquez, who somehow unleashed a shot from the far right of Hyderabad’s penalty area and hit the crossbar. Minutes later, a Hyderabad free-kick nearly turned into a goal but substitute Javier Siverio’s header was headed straight into the keeper’s hands. It was blank at the break. Kerala had won the battle for possession but Hyderabad was starting to grow in the game.

Ten minutes into the second half, Hyderabad managed a few shots on goal. Joao Victor took a long-range pop but Kerala goalkeeper Prabhsukhan Gill caught the ball with ease. Minutes later, Ashish Rai ran along the touchline and squealed in a pass to Ogbeche, whose first touch put him on goal. But the Nigerian fired the ball over the crossbar. Hyderabad seemed to be getting closer.

Error and Redemption

And yet, the final ISL stalemate was broken by a goalkeeper error. Kattimani has been the apple of his team’s eye, making the most saves this season of any goalkeeper. But his near post was breached quite easily when Rahul KP collected the ball in midfield and was allowed a shot on goal from outside the box by a Hyderabad defensive line which continued to retreat rather than to challenge the midfield. The shot was low and pushed hard but should have been saved.

Rahul then put his cape back on to be the hero of Kerala on the other end. A free kick from Ogbeche, just on the edge of the box, was parried by Gill in the 75th minute. But the rebound landed on Juanan, who was denied by a last-minute tackle from Rahul.

With time, it looked like Kerala finally had their first ISL title. It was until the 87th minute. Hyderabad has had a penchant for scoring late in games this season. Sahil Tavora has made 19 appearances this season, all from the bench. A free kick deep from midfield was cleared by Kerala. But Tavora sat just outside the box and the clearance landed his way. Taking a shot on the half-volley, the Goan, in Goa playing for Hyderabad, scored a crier to keep his team in the final. Minutes later, the referee whistled and for the third time in eight years, the ISL final went to extra time.

In the first half of extra time, Kerala carved out the only notable chance. A corner kick from Adrian Luma found midfielder Jeakson Singh, who headed in a header. But the ball fell off the crossbar, the second time of the night for Kerala. In the second half, Hyderabad had the better chance. Ogbeche had time to place his shot after a pass from the wings. But the Nigerian’s quiet night in front of goal continued as his attempt was cleared off the line. Thirty minutes of extra time could not decide a winner and the final ended in a penalty shootout.

There, Kattimani redeemed himself and how! The 32-year-old was constantly arguing with Kerala’s penalty takers, pushing the ball away from the spot and constantly distracting the penalty takers. The result – a decisive shootout performance with three key saves on shots from Marko Leskovic, Nishu Kumar and Jeakson – and an ISL trophy to boot.

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