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Atletico de Kolkata beat Kerala Blasters to lift maiden ISL trophy

Atletico de Kolkata beat Kerala Blasters to lift maiden ISL trophy

A last gasp goal from forward Mohammed Rafique helped the Sourav Ganguly part-owned franchise clinch the inaugural edition of the tournament.

Subhasish Dutta
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Atletico de Kolkata lifted the inaugural Indian Super League trophy, courtesy an injury time goal by substitute Mohammed Rafique which powered the Sourav Ganguly co-owned side to a 1-0 win over Kerala Blasters FC in the final on Saturday.

After 90 minutes of exhilarating football it was Rafique's brilliant header which broke the deadlock in what was his first goal of the tournament. The goal sent the Kolkata camp on exuberant celebrations led by Ganguly which brought back the famous memories of his shirt-whirling act at the Lord's balcony after winning the NatWest series final against England in 2002.

Rafique, who replaced Mohammad Rafi in the 74th minute of the mega clash at the packed DY Patil stadium, followed up a corner from Czech defender Jakub Podany to fire the header in the fourth minute of the injury time to give Kolkata the Cup.

It was a befitting finish to the new league - billed as an effort to restore Indian football to its lost glory - as the last and winning goal of the season was scored by an Indian.

It was also a heart break for Kerala Blasters FC, who despite dominating the proceedings, ended up losing the match - hyped as a clash between cricketing legends Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly.

Rafique, a lad from Bengal, ran into the box, out jumped rival defender Nirmal Chetri and put the ball past Kerala's goalkeeper cum manager David James to decide the fate of the game which was poised to head to extra time.

The finale got off to a spectacular start with an amalgamation of music, lights, acrobatics and stunts. Breathtaking fireworks lit up the sky at the stadium and brought the curtains down on the 20-minute high-voltage extravaganza that left the capacity crowd and a host of celebrities mesmerised.

The ceremony featured hundred snare drummers who struck a rhythm with the 50 freestyle footballers demonstrating well orchestrated moves in presence of Tendulkar, Ganguly, ISL chairperson Nita Ambani and a galaxy of Bollywood stars, including Abhishek Bachchan, John Abraham - both of who own franchises in the league. Cricketer Harbhajan Singh was also seen wearing yellow jersey to support Kerala while Tennis legend Leander Paes was rooting for Kolkata.

Apart from that, fifty Chinese acrobats clad in blue outfits enthralled the audience with their skills before a giant remote-controlled football was flown across the stadium.

The end of the closing ceremony marked the beginning of what was an enlivening display of football.

The match was a revenge for Kolkata, who played out a 1-1 draw against Kerala in the first leg of the group stage. The eastern side then lost 1-2 to Kerala in Kochi in the return leg of the group fixture.

Kolkata, who were without the services of their popular Ethiopian striker Fikru Teferra Lemessa, took the field benching their skipper and marquee player Luis Garcia - who had also picked up a hamstring injury during the second leg semi-final against FC Goa. Coach Antonio Lopez Habas went ahead with a defensive 4-2-3-1 formation and showed his faith in goalkeeper Edel Bete, who made a few splendid saves ensuring a clean sheet for Kolkata tonight.

Kerala were without their star defender Cedric Hengbert, and played Michael Chopra and Iain Hume as forwards, while James also made a return after sitting out of the second semi-final.

The southern outfit, who had the majority of the support here, started well and created a lot of chances. In the fifth minute, Hume entered the box forming a good one-two with Chopra who was tackled well Josemi to be denied a shot and a chance of going 1-0 up. Only six minutes later, Ishfaq Ahmed took a good left-footer but it was blocked by Edel.

Their best opportunity of the first half perhaps came in the 40th minute when Hume's right-footed freekick was cleared by a diving Edel. The first half went goalless.

In the second half, Kolkata did create some early chances but it was Kerala who again looked dangerous and kept the opposition defence on its toes.

Kerala attacked with Ishfaq Ahmed making a terrific run and crossing the ball inside the box but their Scottish midfielder Stephen Pearson sliced it wide of the post.

Chopra again got a brilliant chance to his side ahead in the 52nd minute with a strong left-footed shot towards the right top corner but Edel punched it with one hand to make another good save.

Seven minutes from the full time, Hume's deflected cross swelled towards Chopra, who ran past Podany and attempted a vicious right-footed shot from just eight yards but again Edel brought off one of the best saves of the tournament when he leaped towards his left to thwart it.

After two-and-a-half months of magical journey, the ISL trophy will go to the traditional home of Indian football - Kolkata.

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