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Chennaiyin knockout defending champions Kolkata to reach ISL final

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Chennaiyin knockout defending champions Kolkata to reach ISL final

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SportsCafe Desk


Iain Hume's stunning volley provided Kolkata with a glimmer of hope in the second half, but Fikru returned to his old hunting ground to score a late goal and propel his team into the final. Kolkata won the battle 2-1, but lost the war 2-4 as Chennaiyin booked their place in the final to face FC Goa for the title.

Both teams made a couple of changes to the line-ups they used in the first leg of the semi-final. With Kolkata desperate for goals, Antonio Habas made a bold move and changed his team's formation from 4-2-3-1 to a very attack-minded 3-4-3. The injured midfield duo of Borja Fernandes and Ofentse Nato was replaced by Nallappan Mohanraj and Dejan Lekic.

Mohanraj and Rino Anto operated as the wingbacks, while Jaime Gavilan and Arata Izumi, both attacking midfielders, played at the center of the park.

Marco Materazzi, on the other hand, replaced Bruno Pelissari and Zakeer Mundampara with Elano and Mehrajuddin Wadoo, both of whom returned after serving a suspension. The Italian manager shifted from his usual 4-3-3 formation to a more defence-minded 4-4-1-1. The decision to play Elano on the wings seemed questionable, considering his lack of legs.

The home side were quick off the block, and Lekic tried his luck with a thunderous effort from long range. The left footed strike fizzed past the post - just a foot wide. But it was an early indication of Kolkata's intent.

Chennaiyin were trying to slow down the pace of the game and made the most of any stoppages in the match. The visitors went down at every possible opportunity to win free kicks, and Kolkata obliged with cheap fouls in the opening segment of the game.

Kolkata took the lead in the 21st minute with Lekic scoring his second goal of the tournament. The goal arrived from a comedy of errors at the back as Elano headed an innocuous cross from Sameehg Doutie towards Bernard Mendy in the box. The Chennaiyin center back, who was under no pressure, tried to head it back to his own goalkeeper but did not make the desired contact with the ball.

Edel came off his line to collect the loose ball, but Lekic was first to it and poked it past the former Atletico goalkeeper. The crowd erupted in joy, and the tie was brought back to life.

The Chennaiyin goalkeeper made a crucial save minutes later to protect Chennaiyin's two-goal advantage. Arata Izumi's long range shot got two deflections, off Blasi and Lekic, before reaching Edel in goal, but the big man showed good reflexes to keep it from crawling into the far corner of the goal.

Edel made two more important saves before the end of the first half, first from a deflected shot of Mohanraj, and then a full stretched dive to keep out Doutie's strike from a tight angle in the 40th minute.

Chennaiyin were lucky to have conceded just one goal at the halftime break.

A melee ensued on the pitch in the 54th minute, when Mohanraj headbutted Mendoza right in front of the referee, but to Chennaiyin and Marco Materazzi's dismay, the Japanese referee showed only a yellow card to the left back.

Five minutes later, Lekic missed a golden opportunity to score, and Edel produced another stunning save. Gavilan's dangerous corner was headed towards goal by Tiri. Edel kept it out, but the ball reached Lekic in the box, who volleyed it over the bar.

At the other end, Mendoza wasted a chance to settle the game. After a delightful exchange of passes with Jeje down the left wing, the striker was through on goal, but somehow failed to keep his shot on target, despite the goalkeeper being in no man's land.

Kolkata's hopes of an unlikely comeback were raised late in the match when Iain Hume scored one of the best goals of the tournament in the 86th minute. Lekic set up Hume with a wonderful flick at the edge of the box, and the Canadian striker's stunning left-footed volley went into the top corner of the net. Edel was finally beaten, and it required something special to do so.

Just three minutes later, Hume struck the woodwork as he flicked on a free-kick from Gavilan. He was couple of inches away from taking the match into extra-time, but it was not to be.

Fikru came on the pitch and scored a rare goal to settle the tie in the 89th minute. The goal arrived from another big blunder from the goalkeeper, who raced to the left wing to take a throw-in. Mohanraj failed to control the ball, and Fikru robbed him in the final third. With the goalkeeper way off his line, the Ethiopian striker had the easy task of running into an empty let with the ball.

He even managed a somersault after the goal, something which the Kolkata fans cherished in the inaugural season when he donned the red and white; such is football.

The match, one of the most entertaining we witnessed this season, ended on a sour note as Antonio Habas was sent off from his technical area, after shouting at the referee. The Spaniard though, could be proud of the effort his team put into the game on the night. Had they produced anything close to this performance in the first leg, they would have reached the final.

Chennaiyin will feel they deserved the break, considering how they were at the other end of a similar heartbreaking semi-final exit last year. They will now face Goa in the final as we await the rise of a new champion.

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