In the days leading up to the Delhi Dynamos-Kerala Blasters encounter in the national capital, a worry hung over the hosts' camp. Dynamos had to cut down their training sessions as the post-Diwali spike in pollution was considered harmful for the players. Gianluca Zambrotta sounded helpless when asked about the situation before Friday’s match.
"We, at the moment, think training is a must but of course it is not possible to train in the hotel since football is a game where you need big space, unfortunately you just cannot train. We also need to train on the field and the doctor told to wear a mask just as a precaution," said the worried Italian. The precautionary measure did not come to pass. But the stadium was covered in smog more than an hour before kickoff on Friday.
As visibility declined, one worried for the match that lay ahead. Playing in harmful conditions did not offer a promising prospect. But the apprehensions were soon laid to rest. Once the match kicked-off, both sides brought their best wares to the pitch. Dynamos particularly shone through in the hazy atmosphere that circled the stadium. The result was a 2-0 win for Zambrotta’s side; their first success at home after three draws in the previous matches at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. Dynamos now sit atop the table with 13 points, although their fellow challengers do have a game in hand.
It was an impressive result against a Blasters side that had arrived in the capital on the back of a five-match unbeaten run. Steve Coppell’s team possessed the best defensive record in the league, with only four goals conceded in seven games. Crucially, though, Blasters also held the dubious record of scoring the least number of goals in the tournament &mdas; four. The visitors' inefficiency in front of the goal showed on Friday as they failed to cause much trouble to the Dynamos’ defence.
The only worry for the hosts came from the left flank, where the attack-minded full-back Josu Currais and forward Kelvens Belfort performed admirably. Although the first-half was fought more or less on an equal footing, Dynamos held tight thanks to their solid defensive organisation.
The two changes made by Zambrotta to the starting eleven, though, were in attack. Marcelinho and Kean Lewis came in, for Bruno Pelissari and Rupert Nongrum respectively. The effect of those changes was pretty evident as both players scored within a five-minute second half period to seal the win. The double blow was reminiscent of the victory over Goa which saw a similar intervention by Dynamos.
But the return of Marcelinho and Lewis was significant for another reason. The presence of the duo meant Dynamos once again had the front three that had hounded Chennaiyin in the opening match of the season. With Richard Gadze forming the frontline, the trio constantly worried the Blasters defence with their pace. They sat on the shoulder of their markers, ready to spring forward whenever the opportunity arose.
Arguably, Zambrotta fielded his strongest side on Friday. While the whole team performed admirably, it was the display of one of his key players that deserves to be mentioned. Ruben Gonzalez Rocha’s gifts were made evident on Friday as he stepped forward and pinged angled balls past the opposition defence. This brought added ammunition to Dynamos’ arsenal; quite a few attacking moves originated near their own box.
In fact, Blasters’ formidable defensive shape ensured the hosts were not able to cause further damage. Dynamos’ wastefulness had a bearing too. In his post match comments, Zambrotta remarked that although Lewis has pleased him, there is a lot more that he expects from the young Indian forward. Indeed, the Mohun Bagan forward can be a frustrating figure since he fails to exploit good situations in attack a bit too often.
Gadze is another player who can contribute in a more useful manner. Although Zambrotta is appreciative of the pace he brings upfront, the Ghanaian is a profligate striker. It is his inability to hit the back of the net frequently which has fetched him only two goals this season. Contrast this with Marcelinho’s five.
But Zambrotta continues to trust most of the starting eleven which featured on Friday. In fact, his belief in the side did not waver even when Dynamos were going through a lean patch. "When we drew [four matches], we did not feel that it was a problem for the team as we were working hard and moving in the right direction and fortunately we won today so I am very happy and also I am very happy because we have won two tough games. I am happier today than usual," revealed Zambrotta after the match.
His opposite number Coppell was obviously not happy with the result; he was also not pleased about playing a match in the smog-filled surroundings. "I’m not making an excuse since it is the same for both teams. But maybe it is not a good idea to play in the post-Diwali week in Delhi. I was here last year and it was the same. You are asking professional athletes to dig to the bottom of their lungs."
Coppell indeed made a fair assertion. It does seem a lot to ask of players and everybody else to function in this environment. But both sides made a match of it and Dynamos ensured their superior quality stood out. With plenty of optimism in store, Zambrotta’s men will look forward to hosting Chennaiyin on Wednesday. After all, the last time the two sides met, Dynamos showed how good they can be. An encore cannot be ruled out.