Kerala Blasters FC’s road to the semi-finals
Kerala Blasters FC became the last team to enter the semi-finals of Hero Indian Super League 2016 after their 1-0 win over NorthEast United FC in the last group stage game of the season. The Blasters edged out the Highlanders to clinch the final top 4 spot and rose to second in the table with 22 points from 14 games, setting up a semi-final clash against Delhi Dynamos FC with the first leg scheduled to take place in Kochi on December 11. This will be their second appearance in the semis of the Hero ISL having ended the inaugural edition of the league as runners-up to Atlético de Kolkata. After a disappointing Hero ISL 2015 saw them finish rock-bottom, the men in yellow look like a completely different proposition under the guidance of Steve Coppell. Despite a poor start to the season that saw them endure back-to-back defeats, Kerala managed to turn things around and enter the semis on the back of strong displays in the second half of the league stage. Here we have a look at their journey to the final 4 of Hero ISL 2016.
Lost 1-0 to NorthEast United FC: Kerala kick-started their campaign with a defeat at the hands of the Highlanders in the opening match of the season in Guwahati. Katsumi Yusa scored the winner for NorthEast ten minutes after the restart as the men in yellow started the new season off on the wrong foot.
Lost 1-0 to Atlético de Kolkata: Another second-half strike, this time by ATK’s Javi Lara made it back-to-back losses for Steve Coppell’s men. Following a goalless first half in Kolkata, Lara struck eight minutes into the second period courtesy of a shot from range that took a wicked deflection of Sandesh Jhingan before finding its way into the back of the net. This was also Kerala’s only loss at home in Hero ISL 2016.
Drew 0-0 with Delhi Dynamos FC: A match where both sides found it difficult to carve open any clear-cut chances. Consequently, it ended in a 0-0 draw. This draw at Kochi was the Blasters’ first point of the season and marked the start of a turnaround in their fortunes.
Won 1-0 against Mumbai City FC: A crucial home win against a formidable Mumbai unit. Michael Chopra played a starring role to guide his team to their first victory of the year with a 58th-minute winner that sent the passionate fans in Kochi into a state of frenzy.
Drew 1-1 with FC Pune City: Kerala extended their unbeaten run to three games after playing out their second draw of the season against Pune in Balewadi. Cedric Hengbart scored the fastest goal of the league (in the third minute) this year to send the visitors in front before Pune’s marquee player Mohamed Sissoko equalised for the Stallions in the 68th minute as the game ended 1-1.
Won 2-1 against FC Goa: Their best away performance of the season, Kerala scripted a wonderful comeback against the Gaurs to clinch their only away win this year. Julio Cesar fired Goa in front in the 24th minute but Mohammed Rafi equalised straight after the restart. Kervens Belfort then produced a moment of individual brilliance by driving at Goa’s defence with the ball at his feet before unleashing a powerful right-footed effort from outside the box to score the winner six minutes from full-time.
Drew 0-0 with Chennaiyin FC: An ill-tempered affair, the first south Indian derby of the season witnessed plenty of action without either side managing to get on the score-sheet. However, Kerala left the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai happier of the two sides having secured a vital away point against last season’s winners.
Lost 2-0 to Delhi Dynamos FC: Kerala lost their second meeting of the season against hosts Delhi to bring an end to a sequence of four away games. Kean Lewis scored Delhi’s opener 11 minutes into the second half, while Marcelinho made it 2-0 for the Lions four minutes later.
Won 2-1 against FC Goa: Kerala bounced back after the loss to Delhi with another comeback win against Goa. Rafael Coelho gave the Gaurs the lead in the ninth minute but a Kervens Belfort penalty made it all square three minutes into the second half. Gregory Arnolin conceded the penalty and received his marching orders for a deliberate handball to deny a goal, making it 10-v-11 for the remainder of the half. To make matters worse for Goa, Richarlyson picked up a second yellow seven minutes from full-time, reducing the Gaurs to nine men. Super-sub CK Vineeth stepped up to the plate for Kerala, having just joined from Bengaluru FC following AFC Cup participation, and scored the winner with virtually the last kick of the ball sending the locals into raptures.
Won 3-1 against Chennaiyin FC: Yet another comeback win for Kerala Blasters FC as the men in yellow won the second south Indian derby of the season in dramatic fashion in Kochi. Bernard Mendy scored in the 22nd minute to give the Super Machans a first-half lead. Didier Boris Kadio came off the bench at the start of the second half to score the equaliser in the 67th minute. Two goals from CK Vineeth in the 85th and 89th minutes gave Kerala all three points and made the Indian winger the Blasters’ top-scorer of the season, while also putting Coppell’s men in a strong position with regard to semis qualification.
Lost 5-0 to Mumbai City FC: A blotch for an otherwise formidable Kerala backline. At the Mumbai Football Arena, Kerala went in trailing 2-0 at the break and conceded three more times in the second period as Diego Forlan became the first player to score a hat-trick this season.
Won 2-1 against FC Pune City: A crucial game for both teams as far as their semis aspirations went, Kerala did just about enough to see off Pune in Kochi. A Duckens Nazon goal in the seventh minute gave Kerala a 1-0 lead at half-time. CK Vineeth provided the assist for Aaron Hughes to double their lead in the 57th minute and give his side a two-goal cushion. Anibal Rodriguez netted a stunning free-kick in stoppage-time for Pune but Kerala held on to claim maximum points.
Drew 1-1 with Atlético de Kolkata: Their last away match of the season saw them take on a Kolkata side also looking to cement a semis spot themselves. Vineeth gave Kerala the lead in the eighth minute but Stephen Pearson equalised 10 minutes later as both sides settled for a point.
Won 1-0 against NorthEast United FC: Kerala’s last game of the league stage was a virtual quarter-final against the Highlanders. To qualify, all the Blasters needed to do was avoid defeat. However, they weren’t ready to leave anything to chance and went on to claim all three points courtesy of a sensational goal from outside the box by Vineeth, who in doing so became the highest scoring domestic player this season (five goals).