KOCHI: There are games where the motivation for both teams is to not lose rather than to win. Such encounters don’t usually make for good viewing. The goalless draw between Kerala Blasters FC and Odisha FC at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Kochi on Friday was one such instance. Playing their fourth-straight away game, Odisha was happy to settle for a point and for the injury-ravaged Blasters, it was like gold dust. In the end, both teams shook hands for a draw with the international break presenting an opportunity for bodies and minds to recover.
Kerala Blasters head coach Eelco Schattorie decided to try something different by giving a start to their very own Messi — Cameroonian Raphael Messi Bouli — and benching his trusted target man Bartholomew Ogbeche. And in a welcome change, the Dutchman decided to put his faith in India’s blue-eyed boy Sahal Abdul Samad and handed him a start.
Sahal is one of national team coach Igor Stimac’s favourites, but at club level, it is a different story. Schattorie has been hesitant to start him with doubts over Sahal’s ability to fit into his style of play. But with the team lacking a creative spark, he decided to give the youngster the responsibility of creating goals. Given their current form, Schattorie needed everything to go according to plan. But in the second minute, his captain Jairo Rodrigues pulled his hamstring and went to the ground in agony. Schattorie had his hands over his head, then over his hip. Another match, another injury.
Soon it got worse and the game was becoming more about injuries and less about football. After 24 minutes, Messi and Odisha’s Aridane Santana had a clash of heads when both went for the ball from a corner. The two went down and were motionless for a minute before medics arrived. They were taken straight to the hospital.Until his injury, Messi was a lively figure up front for Blasters but was erratic with his hold-up play and passes and didn’t give his side the incision needed to cut open the Odisha defence. As for Odisha, they lost their main goal threat Santana and his absence was telling.
The sedate game was injected with a moment of magic when Sahal dribbled past two defenders and went down to a challenge inside the box. Schattorie gesticulated wildly as the referee saw nothing in it to award a penalty. With both teams giving each other too much respect, the half was devoid of any goalscoring chances, except a volley by Blasters’ young winger Rahul KP from ten yards out. The second half was a livelier affair and saw a sense of urgency from both sides. But in the end, the desire for a point proved bigger than the lure of risking it all for a crucial win.