Delhi leave bouncing Kochi frustrated
Kochi: From Kerala's stellar defending to a bouncing stadium, here are five takeaways from the first leg between Kerala Blasters and Delhi Dynamos.
The battle of the wingers
Kervens Belfort and CK Vineeth for Kerala; Marcelo Pereira and Kean Lewis for Delhi. The wingers wrote the story of the game on Sunday night. Belfort emerged the clear winner; his breathtaking goal apart, he was always on the prowl on the left flank. Antonio German, who replaced Belfort towards the end, also seemed to enjoy a fair share of the ball in the last 15 minutes. Kerala's wingers, though, received little by way of support from their full-backs, particularly on the right. Oddly enough, the hosts persisted with Sandesh Jhinghan at right-back, despite having Rino Anto - a specialist full-back- on the bench. Steve Coppell may well be prompted to shuffle his pack for the second leg.
Kerala's defence comes out on top, again
With the second leg away, and Delhi unbeaten at home, Kerala needed their defence to stay on point on Sunday. Once again - as they have done on numerous occasions this season - the defenders did not disappoint. Cedric Hengbart had a goal-line clearance, broke several of Delhi's runs into the box and even got an assist to his name. Hengbart and Aaron Hughes formed a great understanding at center-back, and ensured Delhi - the leading goalscorers in the league - left Kochi frustrated and searching for answers. Kerala will need another big game from the two on Wednesday if they are to make the final at home.
A quiet night for Marcelo
First, it was Josu, and then Didier Kado, the man who replaced him. The two left-backs completely man-marked the dangerous Marcelo Pereira out of the game. Marcelo, the top-scorer in the league, had nowhere to run, no space to dribble into, and showed only glimpses of what he is capable of. A 35-yard shot which ended 35 yards off target in the 88th minute summed up his night. Before the game, when Delhi were performing a routing training drill, Marcelo was seen resting. Maybe he was not fit enough. Maybe he was saving his energy. Either way, if Kerala's defending is just as resolute in the second leg, Marcelo might want to try his luck from a central role to get more involved.
Still an open tie
One-goal leads are hardly anything to be content with in a two-legged semifinal. Earlier this season, for instance, Delhi ran away 2-0 victors at home against Kerala. Vineeth, though, remembers that match in a different light: "Those two goals we conceded, were from silly mistakes. We can beat them."
Kerala were the better team in the first leg, but they had 49000 people cheering them on, with inspiration always in the players' sights. Playing in Delhi is a different story. Delhi have three wins, four draws and zero loses at home. Kerala will need to ensure they stay organised and don't lose their heads. Delhi, on their part, need a better game plan to break through Kerala's towering presence at the back. It all sets up for a fascinating contest on December 14.
Kochi - Indian football's missing link?
With I-League clubs still struggling to attract fans to stadiums, maybe having a team that represents an entire state is the way forward. About 49000 fans attended the first leg in Kochi, making for a quite overwhelming experience for everybody inside the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
Many fans travelled long distances to Kochi, and waited in line outside the stadium a good four hours before kick-off. The creator of Manjappada (yellow army) - the biggest Kerala fan group on social media - came all the way from Surat. As one fan puts it: "This is our team, If we win we are happy. If we lose, we will still be happy."