Fairytale for Kolkata as Mohammed Rafique wins the Indian Super League
Atletico de Kolkata defeated Kerala Blasters 1-0 with a goal deep into injury time to be crowned the inaugural champions of the Indian Super League. A capacity crowd of 60,000 in Mumbai's D.Y. Patil Stadium witnessed a tight affair which was won with a near post header by substitute Mohammed Rafique.
Here's three points from the match ...
Super sub Rafique wins the day
One of the big talking points going into the final was who would take the place of the injured talisman Fikru Teferra Lemessa, who missed the game with a groin injury. The Ethiopian front man had netted five goals in the ISL and his all-round performances were instrumental in helping his team get to the final.
Replacement Mohammad Rafi failed to fill the African's big boots, causing the Kerala Blasters' defence few problems. Late in the second half, with his team struggling in front of goal, manager Jose Antonio Habas decided to bring on inexperienced striker Rafique, who had spent most of the tournament as an unused sub. With the match limping toward extra time and both teams conserving their energy, Atletico won a corner with virtually the last play of the game. As the ball was whipped into the area between the near post and the six-yard box the Kerala defence momentarily switched off and up popped Rafique to provide a fairy-tale end to the ISL and earn himself the man of the match award.
Rafique could barely contain himself at the final whistle as he was mobbed by his teammates. The winning header was virtually Rafique's only contribution to the game but one that will have earned him cult status in the football-crazy city of Kolkata. Atletico will go down in history as the winners of the most high-profile domestic football competition ever staged in India thanks to a little-known super sub.
The Kolkata side might not have been the ISL's most attractive or eye-catching but they have certainly been its most resilient. When it has mattered most they churned out a result and the final against Kerala was no different. At times, they were completely outplayed with Kerala enjoying around 70 percent of the possession. Technically strong and well organised, Atletico always managed to break up Kerala's swift counter-attacking play; their midfield in particular doing a valiant job in tracking back and putting a tackle in when it mattered most.
The Blasters looked far more threatening and will be wondering how did they did not turn all the possession they had into goals. Atletico's well-drilled back four was superbly marshalled by 2005 Champions League winner Josemi, who is the only player in the ISL to have played every match for his team.
The Spaniard inspired those around him, his combative performance symbolic of the never-say-die attitude of the team. Atletico's fans must have feared at one stage during the second half that their team was about to be overrun as Kerala dominated the midfield and grew more confident in attack. But as has been the case with Atletico, resilience and a little bit of luck saw them over the line to lift the ISL trophy.
Edel stands strong
Rafique may have got the man of the match award for his injury-time winner but the performance of Atletico de Kolkata's goalkeeper Edel -- or Apoula Edima Edel Bete, to give him his full name -- also deserves recognition. One save in the 82nd minute in particular summed up his immense contribution. A cross from Kerala's Ian Hume found Michael Chopra, who twisted and turned his way in the six-yard box, firing in a close-range effort that looked destined to be the game's opening goal.
With Kerala's players and fans preparing to celebrate, Edel somehow managed to push it around the post. Chopra fell to the ground with his head in his hands, dumbstruck at how the Cameroon-born Armenian stopper had managed to keep it out. The breath-taking save was probably the best in the ISL. It proved to be the game's most defining moment because surely the Blasters would have gone on to win had the ball hit the back of the net.
Edel has kept five clean sheets during the ISL with his shutout in the final the most memorable. Throughout the 90 minutes, he barely put a foot wrong, and on any other day that would have earned him the man of the match award.
Vivek Chaudhary covers FIFA and the financial side of the game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @viveksport