Ever since they left India to train in Madrid, little was known about how Atletico de Kolkata were shaping up. Through closed-door practice sessions, Spanish coach Antonio Lopez Habas ensured that the veil of secrecy remained when the squad came home. With its complement of Indian players under the scanner since the domestic draft, this had led to speculation about how good this Indian Super League (ISL) franchise really was.
The answer came on a Sunday evening when the Salt Lake Stadium looked as pretty as Priyanka Chopra. Through three superbly-taken goals, Atletico de Kolkata gave the ISL the start all its stakeholders wanted. Save those connected with the Mumbai franchise, that is.
Ethiopian striker Fikru Lemessa scored the first goal of the competition that got Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly to watch Indian football with the Bachchans and then launched into a celebration reminiscent of Miroslav Klose and Nigerian Julius Aghahowa, who had defied gravity after scoring against Sweden in the 2002 World Cup finals.
Age no bar
Lemessa’s chip over Subrata Pal was as delectable as Luis Garcia’s pass. The Kolkata team’s marquee player showed that even at 36, he has the fitness and finesse to find teammates who can stay between the lines of midfield and defence and break at the right time. From an early dummy that didn’t work till the 87 minutes he was on the pitch, Garcia was at the heart of most attacks by the team that shares its red stripes with Atletico Madrid.
Garcia had a give-go with Baljeet Sahni who was denied by a reflex save by Subrata Pal, Mumbai City FC’s best player on Sunday evening. Pal showed courage under fire, saving three more attempts but couldn’t do anything when Garcia found Lemessa, making the most of former Germany international Manuel Friedrich’s late challenge.
Mumbai City FC had started with a few cynical challenges – USA referee Christopher Penso booked Syed Rahim Nabi in the second minute – and there were a total of five yellow cards in the first half.
The visitors started strongly after the break with 28-year-old Brazilian forward Andre Moritz infusing energy but before Ranbir Kapoor’s team could make it count came what would surely rank among the top five goals of the tournament. From 20 yards out, former Real Madrid player Borja Fernandes bent a long-ranger David Beckham would have been proud of.