CHENNAI: They had 90 minutes to salvage their campaign. It took them just 16! Chennaiyin FC kept their semifinal hopes alive with a thumping 4-1 win over Kerala Blasters, scoring twice in the opening quarter of the game, at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here on Saturday.
John Stiven Mendoza, inexplicably rested in the loss against Atletico de Kolkata, scored a wonderful hat-trick after Dhanachandra Singh had put the hosts ahead in the third minute of the match.
The result means that Kerala slide back into a now-familiar bottom spot, while Chennaiyin move up to sixth in the table, just a win away from NorthEast United in fourth place.
The Blasters are virtually out of the tournament as only three wins from their next three matches and a rather improbable string of results elsewhere can rescue their season.
Marco Materazzi made a rather brave decision to drop his marquee player Elano, with Bruno Pelissari starting instead, and the move paid off in spectacular fashion. Chennaiyin looked much more fluid without Elano and split open the Kerala defence with alarming regularity. The men in yellow on the other hand were toothless — never looking like scoring and always in danger of conceding.
Indeed their best moment of the match came in the very first minute with an early probe into the Chennaiyin half, resulting in Cavin Lobo hitting the upright. But it took just a couple of minutes for the tide to turn. Defender Rahul Bheke headed away a cross from midfield, but only as far as the advancing Dhanachandra. The Chennaiyin left-back struck a sweetly-timed volley from just outside the box, that found its way past Kerala keeper Stephen Bywater.
The visitors barely had time to catch their breath before the second goal went in. Dhanachandra was once again in the thick of things, firing in a cross from the left that found Mendoza on the opposite flank.
Lesser mortals might have contemplated trying to find someone in the box, but the Colombian, brimming with confidence, curled it into the far left corner. Almost 16 minutes had gone by and it was virtually game, and tournament over, for the Blasters! Chennaiyin never once looked like letting their lead slip and could have gone further ahead in first half, had it not been for some generosity in front of goal.
Kerala coach Terry Phelan threw on Bruno Perone for Peter Ramage at the halftime break, but the substitution did little to change Chennaiyin’s domination of the match. Just past the hour-mark, Chennaiyin nearly had their third. Mendoza broke free of his marker and sprinted clear on goal, but opted to find Jeje Lalpekhlua, instead of taking a shot. The Manipuri inevitably fluffed the chance and Mendoza was left holding his head in disappointment.
But the mercurial Colombian was not to be denied. With just 10 minutes left on the clock, Thoi Singh found Mendoza inside the box, who poked the ball home with the outside of his left boot. If Kerala fans had home that was the nadir, they were proven wrong just a minute later. An interception by Harmanjot Khabra found its way to Mendoza, who duly completed his hat-trick.
Kerala had a consolation goal in the dying seconds of the game, Antonio German finding the net from a set-piece, but that did little to brighten up a gloomy day for them.