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ISL 2017: A Look Back at the First Three Seasons of the League

A new chapter was written in the history books of Indian football, when the undeniably lucrative Indian Super League was launched amidst heavy doses of fan fare and media attention in Kolkata.

Abhimanyu Sen | News18 Sports

Updated:November 17, 2017, 5:05 PM IST
ISL 2017: A Look Back at the First Three Seasons of the League
Atletico de Kolkata. (Getty Images)

A new chapter was written in the history books of Indian football, when the undeniably lucrative Indian Super League was launched amidst heavy doses of fan fare and media attention in Kolkata.

Once upon a time, the rightful holder of the tag, Mecca of Indian football, Kolkata had her arms wide open as 65,000 attended the tournament’s first ever game at the Salt Lake Stadium. Hosts Atletico de Kolkata brought new colours to the city as they swatted away Mumbai City FC 3-0 in an entertaining contest.

Another tournament was pinned on the nation’s sporting calendar – and it was here to stay, as the ISL, by the end of 2014 discovered they were the talk of town or country. The ISL’s first season had made quite some noise, as people within the country took notice, and so did many globally.

After three successful seasons, the ISL is all but set to be promoted to becoming the country’s top flight league – this will open up the benefits of continental competition to the participants – the matter though is still under study within the corridors of power in the Asian Football Confederation, FIFA and the AIFF.

As the ISL’s organisers prepare for the upturn in their fortunes, here is a quick walk down memory lane – three riveting seasons that gave Indian football some much needed impetus.

2014 Season

The inaugural season saw big name signings throng the ISL which resulted in a lot of excitement and anticipation amongst football fans in the country. French World Cup and European Championship winners Robert Pires and David Trezeguet signed up for FC Goa and Pune City FC respectively. While Italian World Cup winner Alessandro Del Piero turned out for the Delhi Dynamos, former England goal keeper David James was the key man for Kerala Blasters FC.

The season started with Atletico de Kolkata thrashing Mumbai City FC 3-0 in the first match of Indian Super League at the Salt Lake stadium. As the season progressed, Kolkata along with Chennaiyin FC and Kerala Blasters FC became the frontrunners for a place in the semi-finals. Legendary Brazilian Zico’s FC Goa made a late surge to eventually finish second in the points table. Marco Materazzi’s Chennaiyin FC topped the table while Atletico de Kolkata and Kerala Blasters FC finished third and fourth respectively to qualify for the semi-finals.

Semi-Final 1 – Chennaiyin FC vs Kerala Blasters FC: Kerala Blasters demolished Chennaiyin FC in the first-leg of the first semi-final at home to all but seal a place in the final. Chennaiyin made a grand comeback at home in the second-leg of the first semi-final. Jeje Lalpekhlua scoring in the last minute of regulation time to take the match into extra-time. Stephen Pearson scored for Kerala in the 117th minute to take the Blasters to the final.

Semi-Final 2 – FC Goa vs Atletico de Kolkata: Atletico de Kolkata and FC Goa played out 2 goalless draws in the second semi-final. Atletico de Kolkata made it through to the finals after winning the penalty-shootout 4-2.

Final - Kerala Blasters FC vs Atletico de Kolkata: The final of the inaugural tournament pitted two Indian cricket legends against each other. Sachin Tendulkar, co-owner of Kerala Blasters FC, was facing off against former Indian cricket team captain Sourav Ganguly, who co-owned the Kolkata franchise.

It was an evenly contested final at Mumbai’s DY Patil stadium with both teams failing to find the back of the net but coming close. The moment of the match came in the last minute of regulation time as Mohammed Rafique scored for Atletico de Kolkata to make the champions of the inaugural season. Chennaiyin FC’s Elano took home the golden boot with 8 goals to him, while there were a total of 129 goals scored in 61 games.

2015 Season

The second season of the ISL saw bigger names reaching the Indian shores to be a part of the footballing extravaganza. Brazilian World Cup winner Roberto Carlos was the marquee player cum coach for the Delhi Dynamos. Frenchman Nicolas Anelka was brought in to first season strugglers Mumbai City FC, while Brazilian defender Lucio took charge at FC Goa.

FC Goa, Atletico de Kolkata and Chennaiyin FC were once again the teams that started the season with a bang and eventually guaranteed themselves a spot in the semi-finals. Delhi Dynamos under Roberto Carlos managed to break into the top four to seal a maiden semi-final berth.

Semi-Final 1 – FC Goa vs Delhi Dynamos: A Robin Singh goal gave the Dynamos a 1-0 win in the first-leg at home, raising hope of an entry into the finals. But Zico’s FC Goa hammered the Dynamos 3-0 in the second-leg to clinch a maiden finals berth for themselves.

Semi-Final 2 – Atletico de Kolkata vs Chennaiyin FC: Chennaiyin were in the semi-finals for the second season running and they knew they had to make amends for the loss at the same stage last season. But reigning champions Atletico de Kolkata were a tough opposition. Chennaiyin though romped home to a 3-0 first-leg win at home with goals from Bruno Pelissari, Jeje Lalpekhlua and Mendoza Valencia. Atletico staged a comeback at home but a 2-1 win was not enough to stop Chennaiyin FC from a maiden finals appearance.

Final – FC Goa vs Chennaiyin FC: A partisan crowd at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Fatorda cheered for the home team FC Goa in the all important final clash. But Bruno Pelissari silenced the crowd by putting Chennaiyin FC infront in the 54th minute. Thongkhosiem Haokip restored parity for FC Goa in the 58th minute and the crowd went berserk as Joffre put the home team in front in the 87th minute to raise hopes of a title triumph. But an own goal from Kattimani tied the match at 2-2 in the last minute. Mendoza Valencia broke Goan hearts with an injury-time winner to give Marco Materazzi’s team the title.

Stiven Mendoza scored a bagful of goals – 13 to be precise to win the golden boot, in a year when the average goals per game had gone up by 1 goal a game from the first season. The final tally read 186 goals in 61 games.

2016 Season

The final time the ISL would have eight teams on its roster. The season’s opening act was played out in the beautiful city of Guwahati, where close to 25,000 were present as the NorthEast United edged past the Kerala Blasters 1-0. The season once again like the previous editions was not going to be a marathon but a well paced out run to the end.

The roster of international players was once again under the spotlight. The likes of Helder Postiga, Diego Forlan, Lucio, Florent Malouda, John Arne Riise, Zico and Marco Materazzi all made their way to India with a promise of entertainment coupled with quality football. All this was meant to be a concoction strong enough to help the sport jump to greater heights in India.

In between all this, a certain Thierry Henry made a fleeting visit to Kolkata and took time out to watch 90 minutes at the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium. Like all seasons, the race for the top 4 heated up after the first few weeks, and even though the leader of the points table changed at rapid pace – the expected lot of Mumbai City FC, Atletico de Kolkata, Kerala Blasters and Delhi Dynamos proved to be a class apart.

Semi-final 1 - Atletico de Kolkata vs Mumbai City FC: The Salt Lake Stadium was under renovation for the FIFA U-17 World Cup, and ATK would play their semi-final at the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium. Lalrindika Ralte put ATK in the lead within three minutes, before the Forlan led Mumbai fought back with Leo Costa’s equaliser and Gerson Vieira headed home for the lead – all this took only 19 minutes.

There was more drama, as Iain Hume reinstated ATK’s lead before half time. Mumbai were expected to fight back with a half and another leg to go, but captain Forlan was sent for an early shower and with that vanished their hopes of taking something back to Mumbai.

In the second leg, ATK – a well organized outfit decided to hold back and shut shop. Mumbai had 45 minutes with an extra player as Robert Lalthlamuana was sent off, but they lacked penetration. Forlan looking on from the stands as Mumbai submitted meekly and ATK had another shot at glory.

Semi-final 2 - Delhi Dynamos vs Kerala Blasters: The Dynamos had been scoring goals for fun and were expected to produce similar things during the business end of the tournament. Hunting down the Blasters in their own backyard was going to be quite a task – the Dynamos could not find a way past the yellow wall as Kervens Belfort helped Kerala take a 1-0 lead to the second leg in the national capital.

On home soil, the likes of Marcelinho and Malouda were expected to light up the JLN, and right on cue, the Brazilian put the Lions in front. Duckens Nazon equalized for Kerala, before Ruben Rocha brought Delhi back into the contest, which needed a tie breaker. Delhi missed all three of their penalties in the shootout, as Mohammed Rafique gleefully hit the winning penalty to take Kerala to the final for a repeat of the summit clash from 2014.

Final: Atletico de Kolkata vs Kerala Blasters: It was a moment of déjà vu, and another moment to relish the Sachin vs Sourav rivalry in the competition. Mohd Rafi put the Blasters in the lead, as the yellow army celebrated with the hope of winning the ISL for the very first time.

But even before the first half ended ATK gave them a rude reality check as Henrique Sereno found the back of the net. Jose Molina’s side were not letting go, and even though they could not find the important winner within regulation time they held tight. The CK Vineeth led Blasters attack found no way past them.

The tie breaker is always about keeping your nerves calm after a tiring 120 minutes. The Blasters had just gone through a similar situation in the national capital, but on home soil they faltered and Jewel Raja did not hesitate in putting the seal on the final result.

ATK were two time champions and the Prince of Kolkata, an amateur footballer apart from being a cricketer once again got one past his old teammate as Kochi looked on in dismay.

Delhi Dynamos’ Marcelinho scored 10 times to home the golden boot, while all combined beat the goal keepers 145 times in 61 games.

2017 Season

A new era has been ushered in with the tournament expanded to 10 teams as Bengaluru FC and Jamshedpur FC have joined the bandwagon. Along with that the duration of the competition has almost doubled – one can surely expect more historical nights in the Indian Super League’s latest chapter.

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| Edited by: Pratik Sagar
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