Kolkata: If the talk about the Indian Super League before kick-off was all about Bollywood heart throbs and famous cricketers — then Atletico de Kolkata ensured that the post match awe was all about their football.
The home side brushed aside early match jitters to set the tone for a convincing 3-0 win which had 'Spanish' stamped all over it — with Luis Garcia, Borja Fernandez and Arnal Llibert involved in the goals.
It was 28-year-old striker Fikru Teferra who opened the scoring after the brilliant Garcia found him with a precise through ball which the Ethiopian calmly lobbed over the on-rushing Subrata Paul. Teferra went on a multi-somersault celebration that delighted the crowd which was already delirious with a fantastic opening ceremony featuring all the big names associated with the ISL.
But it was the second goal in the 69th minute which probably convinced the 65,000-strong Kolkata home crowd that their team is actually worth all the hype. A loose ball fell to Borja Fernandez about 25 yards from goal and the former Real Madrid midfielder sent a right-footed rocket which swerved past Paul and into the back of the net.
With Mumbai left chasing for half an hour, Kolkata imposed themselves on the match and killed it off in the 93rd minute as Arnal Llibert came off the bench to tap in a cross from the impressive Fikru — before removing his shirt and flexing his muscles ala Mario Balotelli for Italy in Euro 2012.
Kolkata created a couple of chances within the first quarter itself. First Garcia found Baljit Sahni with a threaded through ball that set him free and one-on-one — and then took a snap-shot himself from close range. However, it was goalkeeper Paul who won the first two battles. Garcia also set up a lovely cross for Sahni later in the second half, Paul saving from point-blank range again.
Mumbai were dealt an early blow when their skipper Syed Nabi was stretchered off after turning his ankle in the turf. Manager Peter Reid said that his injury situation will be clearer once the scans were done, but the mood in the Mumbai camp seemed damp and the signs are not so good.
There was another scare for the visitors when Fikru went into a hard challenge with Paul coming off his line to stop the striker from poking home — his knees crunching into Paul's chest, forcing lengthy treatment from medics.
Despite it being the first match, the two teams got into some intense physical battles on the pitch. Mumbai's German defender Manuel Friedrich and Fikru were tussling throughout while Czech Jan Stohanzl threw himself into dozens of challenges that had Kolkata wary of him throughout the game. For the home team, it was Ofentse Nato who was doing the sliding — his late challenge on Lalrindika Ralte particularly dangerous — just like Raju Gaikwad's on Jofre Mateu, which actually deserved a second yellow card and would have left Mumbai down to 10 men.
Despite Mumbai's physical dominance, and in fact even possession — 57% to Kolkata's 43%, it was Atletico which looked in control throughout. There were pockets of good play from Mumbai, and they seemed to miss Freddie Ljungberg and Nicolas Anelka's influence on the pitch.
When they really did get going, it was too late. Pavel Cmovs, who was possibly the best Mumbai player on the night, had a long shot take a wicked deflection, forcing a fine diving save from Subhasish Roy Chowdhury. Moments later, the Indian goalkeeper held tight to a Friedrich header.
Atletico de Kolkata exposed Mumbai's rejigged lineup which was without their ex-Arsenal stars and Nabi — but as Mumbai manager Reid admitted in the press conference — the visitors were outplayed and out-passed.
Kolkata next face NorthEast United FC in Guwahati on 16 October and Mumbai take on Pune City FC on 18 October.
Updated Date: Oct 13, 2014 08:33 AM