KOCHI: Having struggled all season to score, Kerala Blasters FC chose their most important match yet to sparkle. Midfielder Ishfaq Ahmed, Canadian striker Iain Hume and Kerala man Sushanth Mathew snapped up the chances that came their way in emphatic an fashion as Sachin Tendulkar’s team blanked Chennaiyin FC 3-0 to win their first leg semifinal with surprising ease on Saturday.
That leaves Marco Materazzi’s side a mountain to climb in the return leg on December 16 in Chennai.
As the boisterous fans at the Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium seemed to truly rejoice in seeing all their voice translating into some material advantage for their team, Chennai made too many errors in their defensive third to give the Blasters much more than they would have bargained for.
Incredibly, for a team that could manage just nine goals in 14 league games, the Blasters struck twice in two minutes just before the half hour mark to stun the visitors packed with such big names as Alessandro Nesta, Mikael Silvestre and Elano Blumer.
The crowd erupted first in the 26th minute as James McAllister’s glanced header off a Hume freekick found its way into the net, but was ruled off-side. The crowd had their genuine moment almost immediately as Ahmed slotted in an angular right-footer to finish off a quick passing move with Spaniard Victor Forcada picking his run through the right.
Hume then stabbed in from close as the Chennai defence stood ball-watching after a Stephen Pearson cross had been headed out by Nesta and Ahmed knocked the ball back into the danger area.
Sushanth, who came in as a substitute late into the match, hammered the final nail in the Chennai coffin with a sumptuous long range left-footer that bent into the far top corner, even as the visitors had set up camp in the opposition territory.
Making the job unexpectedly comfortable for the hosts, Chennaiyin’s three-man central midfield, comprising Eric Djemba Djemba, Denson Devadas and Harmanjot Khabra, failed to hold the ball, with loose touches and edgy passes allowing plenty of space for the Blasters to work with.
Forcada did his part to exploit those holes, even as Hume and Michael Chopra — who received his first start for KBFC — made good runs ahead of him. With Pearson and Ishfaq too joing in from the flanks, it spelt doom for Chennai. Brazilian Elano’s return for Chennaiyin, after a five-game injury lay-off, ended up in sorrow as he had to come off in the second session with another niggle, after having made a bright start.
Things could have been entirely different had the visitors buried the first big chance that they received. The enterprising Bernard Mendy’s through ball caught the Blasters defence napping, but Jeje Lalpekhlua — with loads of time and space at his disposal — could find neither power nor placement as his shot was gathered by Sandip Nandy who had another excellent game.