Delhi Dynamos lost at the semi-final stage for the second season running as their Indian Super League (ISL) 3 campaign was ended by Kerala Blasters after 120 minutes of gripping football at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi. All the game needed was the lottery of a penalty shootout wherein the home side collapsed, resulting in their missing all three spot kicks.
With the game in the balance after the first leg in Kochi ended in a 1–0 Kerala win, Delhi needed to better Kerala’s winning margin in the previous match to progress to the final. They almost did it. But that wasn’t enough. As is often the case in knockout stage football.
Delhi head coach Gianluca Zambrotta had talked up his team’s need to play better than they did in Kochi: “We have to get better regarding the way we play and keeping possession of the ball (is important).” That, though, was barely the blueprint Delhi followed in the game’s opening exchanges on their home turf.
As the gap between their first and last lines of defence increased owing to Kerala’s counter-attacking threat, the Lions had difficulty in finding their forwards. Consequently, diagonal balls were threaded which were easily kept out by the away side’s imposing defence.
Both teams exchanged goals inside a four-minute first-half spell. Marcelinho’s opener for Delhi was a slice of luck, while Duckens Nazon’s leveller for Kerala came about after the hosts opted for chaos instead of control.
Delhi were one-nil up, they were at home, and three-fourths of the game remained. Instead of dominating possession and pushing their lines up, Zambrotta’s men carried on with their ill-advised punts to be smothered by the likes of Sandesh Jhingan and Cédric Hengbart. That ceded the chance to control the game from an advantageous position.
What followed next was Kerala’s equaliser and Milan Singh’s sending off. From being in the driver’s seat one minute to being a man down the other, Delhi’s slump was swift.
The Lions redeemed themselves, played their hearts out, but looked mentally drained by the time the penalty shootout started. Playing with a man less is an ordeal, playing a semi-final that way is worse.
Kerala goalkeeper Sandip Nandy kept making mistakes throughout the game, gifting Delhi two goals. He, however, kept his composure at the key moments that proved to be the difference in the end. The 41-year-old fumbled and flapped for 120 minutes, but did his job in the penalty shootout.
In complete contrast, Delhi lost their way twice in the game, yet they were in it despite having had to play with ten men for 92 minutes. Milan’s reckless high-footed lunge on Mehtab Hossain had the hosts a man down in the 28th minute. Kerala were leading 2–1 on aggregate at that stage; all hopes of a first final appearance for Delhi were vanishing into thin air.
Then came resilience. Delhi hadn’t often found themselves down in the dumps in ISL 3, but on the occasions they had, they discovered their drive and scripted comebacks, if their games against Mumbai City and Pune City earlier in the season are anything to go by. Here as well, they found their determination to equalise the aggregate score, as late as the eighth minute of first-half stoppage time.
The hosts dominated with lesser numbers, were well ahead in the shots count and made light of Milan’s sending off. Even in the dying embers of extra-time, it was Delhi who did all the running. Kerala, a man up, seemed to have lead in their boots; their jet-heeled forwards — Kervens Belfort, CK Vineeth and Antonio German — were dealt with easily by the excellent Ruben Rocha and Anas Edathodika.
That, perhaps, doesn’t count for much now. Delhi are out, losing a football match in the most painful way possible. There, in the shootout, the Dynamos had a meltdown once again. While he had three shots on target throughout the match, Florent Malouda missed his range from 12 yards. He skied his penalty to put Delhi in disadvantage in the shootout.
Thereon, the hosts never recovered. Bruno Pelissari also ballooned his spot-kick, while Memo’s saved shot was the final nail in Delhi’s coffin.
Delhi Dynamos, the top-scoring team of ISL 3, provided great entertainment throughout the season. The fact that they won’t be around for the final is a testament to Kerala’s greater staying power and composure. Even the watching Ian Rush — who gasped at Malouda’s penalty miss — will attest to the fact that all that is fun doesn’t always last the distance.
Updated Date: Dec 15, 2016 09:20:14 IST