ATK, Kerala slug it out to be inaugural ISL champions

Mumbai : After nearly 10 weeks of exciting action featuring 60 scintillating encounters, a mouth-watering clash between Atletico de Kolkata and Kerala Blasters promises to provide the perfectly high-voltage finale to the inaugural Indian Super League football tournament here tomorrow.

A dash of cricketing flavour has been added to the contest given that Kerala are co-owned by Sachin Tendulkar and ATK are co-owned by Sourav Ganguly. The two icons are expected to cheer their respective teams from the stands, along with what is expected to be, a sell-out crowd.

Ironically, Saturday’s finalists finished third and fourth in the league stage, and the teams who were knocked out in the semi-finals were top finishers Chennaiyin FC and  FC Goa.

Despite being finalists, both Blasters and ATK have had contrasting league rounds and semi-final matches.

The Blasters struggled in the initial few games and from being the bottom placed, they bounced back and started peaking at the end of the tournament.

They outclassed the league toppers Chennaiyin FC in the first semi-final match and got the much-needed goal in the extra time of the second one to drub the leaders 4-3 on aggregate and book a spot in the final.

On the other hand, ATK endured a drop in form after some initial blitz. They were the league leaders in first few weeks but lost the plot and managed to scrape through to the semi-finals and the final.

The Eastern outfit seems to have lost it’s initial rhythm and even against FC Goa, they drew a blank, managing to qualify for the finals on the basis of penalties which they won 4-2.

With the Kolkata outfit finding it difficult to score goals in the second half of the league, they have relied on their solid defence to see them through to the finals.

The Antonio Habas coached-team has secured just one win in the last 12 matches and the Spaniard would hope his side finds its best form and comes out of the rut when it matters the most.

They were without the services of their talismanic striker Fikru Tefera in the semifinal matches against Goa and it remains to be seen whether the Ethiopian, who has scored five goals, regains his fitness before the summit clash.

The return of striker Cavin Lobo and Spanish midfielder Jofre Mateu Gonzalez would have certainly boosted the struggling side and skipper Luis Garcia would be the key with his skills in the midfield along with Borja Fernandez.

Kingshuk Debnath, Arnab Mondal, Josemi, Biswajit Saha, Baljit Sahni form the core of the defence and have done well at the back.

On the other hand, the Southern outfit might have a slight psychological edge, having drawn and won against the same opponents in the league stage.

Scottish-born Canadian international forward Ian Hume has been consistent with his performances and will helm the attack with Mehtab Hossain and Stephen Pearson helping him out in the centre.

Led by former England goalkeeper David James, the team would also rely on ex-Newcastle United striker Michael Chopra to provide extra thrust.

CS Sabeeth and Nigerian Penn Orji have also played vital role upfront along with Milagres Gonsalves.

Sandesh Jhingan, Gurwinder Singh, Cedric Hengbart, Nirmal Chettri have been resolute at the back to block the attacks.

Given that the two sides match up quite evenly on paper, an interesting contest is on the cards.

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