Chennai: It was Chennaiyin FC who laid the ground for Kerala Blasters’ phenomenal transformation from underdogs to top dogs and the hosts now have their task cut out as they seek to overturn a 0-3 deficit in the second leg semi-final of the Indian Super League football today.
Table toppers in the group stage, Chennaiyin FC had been humbled 3-0 by the Sachin Tendulkar-owned Kerala Blasters in the away leg last-four clash two days ago.
And quite like the manner in which Kerala Blasters produced their best show in front of their beloved fans in Kochi, the Chennai outfit would look to make the home advantage count, though they will have to do much more than just relying on what is expected to be a packed crowd at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
High on confidence after the result in the first leg semi-final, the visitors would look to guard against complacency as the Chennaiyin team has the wherewithal to effect a turnaround.
But for that, the hosts will have to raise their game to another level.
The return of the tournament’s top scorer Elano Blumer of Brazil and the arrival of the Italian World Cup winner Alessandro Nesta has definitely made Chennaiyin FC look strong on paper and the time is ripe to deliver the goods on the field.
Chennaiyin FC’s marquee manager-cum-player Marco Materazzi knows it too well that his side didn’t play to its potential the other evening, and it will be important for them that he succeeds in making his players believe in their ability to stage a fight back.
For the Chennaiyins, it will be nothing less than a Herculean task to wipe out the three-goal deficit against a side whose confidence has sky-rocketed, whose players have started to shine and are in the mood to outshine their fancied opponents.
In the first leg, two quick goals, which came in a two-minute spell just before the half-hour mark through right winger Ishfaq Ahmed and striker Iain Hume, virtually killed the game which had looked an even contest till then.
Kerala-born substitute Sushanth Mathew then made it a memorable evening for the hosts with a phenomenal long-ranger just before the referee blew the final whistle in the South Indian derby.
That they conceded two goals in a very short span of time is a fair indicator that Chennaiyin FC’s back four cracked under pressure in front of over 60,000 roaring Kerala Blasters fans.
While the frontmen did their job to perfection, the Kerala Blasters defence was equal to the task in denying the opposition strikers, and experienced goalkeeper Sandip Nandy did a brilliant job at the post.
Elano will look to get his scoring touch back after a none-too-impressive outing in Kochi.
Finals difficult but reachable: Materazzi
CHENNAI: Chennaiyin FC coach-cum-player Marco Materazzi today said his side can still qualify for the final of though he conceded the difficult task ahead. “It will be very difficult but we believe we can do it. The first half will be very important because if we can get a goal or two, we will put Kerala Blasters under pressure,” Materazzi said. “At the start of the tournament Chennaiyin was not fancied by anyone but as the league stage progressed, it was clear to everyone that we are a top team. So maybe in the latter stages the opponents raised their game further and adopted different strategy to play against us,” the World Cup winner Italian said.