KOCHI: They are the leaders, and Chennaiyin FC proved on Sunday in front of a jam-packed away crowd at the Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium that they are indeed champion material.
Not in the way of any scintillating performance, rather in the way they soaked up pressure and hit like lightning when the opportunity presented itself, late into the second session. All that without their leading lights Brazilian Elano Blumer and Swede Bojan Djordjic!
On the day, the other Brazilian, Bruno Pelissari, stunned the home fans into silence as he ran half the length of the pitch on a counter, checked inside a hesitant Gurwinder Singh, made the perfect angle for his left foot and curled a sublime effort into the far top corner. True to the nature of the cagey tussle the encounter turned out to be, the quick counter, or a set piece, looked the likely source of a goal. The solitary goal win has pretty much assured Marco Materazzi’s side a last-four spot, with two games in hand.
Whatever plans Kerala Blasters FC may have drawn up with substitutions to bolster the attack went up in smoke as goalkeeper David James and left back James McAllister pulled up with injuries. That meant they could bring in only Pedro Gusmao to the forward-line, even as Penn Orji — who had twice proved to be a super-sub — watched from the sidelines.
The hosts had come out with greater intent in the second session and, almost immediately, Iain Hume found himself in a promising position. But he skewed his shot wide. To Chennai keeper Gennaro Bracigliano’s credit, he had narrowed down the angle. How the Canadian would have wished to have converted the chance for the Blasters, as he and Gusmao were locked in an argument after the final whistle. After the dust had settled, Materazzi could afford to jog a few rounds. His team had taken the ‘fortress’ that seemed impregnable in four previous matches. Exactly 30 minutes into the match, it was a rare sight as the ISL’s two player-managers, David James and Materazzi, stood hands on hips in their respective technical areas as their teams struggled to make something meaningful happen. Both men chose to come out with a compact 4-4-2 formation and the match was largely confined to midfield.