Hero ISL Chapter 3: New season, same old finalists
The third edition of the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) was an adventure involving high-class performances, enthusiastic fans, iconic chants, spectacular goals, mind-blowing saves and a lot more.
The final was the rerun of the inaugural campaign as Atletico de Kolkata faced Kerala Blasters, with the former being triumphant yet again. But this time, the game was even closer and needed penalties to decide the winner. Eventually, the Kolkata-based side emerged victorious, bagging the game 4-3 via the shootout.
Here’s a look at each team’s journey in the third season of the Hero ISL:
Atlético de Kolkata FC
Head coach Antonio Habas left ATK ahead of the 2016 season due to financial concerns. He was replaced by former Villareal manager, José Francisco Molina. ATK had a remarkable campaign under him as they lost just two out of 14 games. With a strong defence, the side finished fourth in the league table with 20 points. They faced Mumbai City FC in the semi-finals, winning 3-2 on aggregate before taking on rivals Kerala Blasters FC in a challenging final which ended in a 1-1 draw at extra-time. The Kolkata-based side held their nerves in the penalty shootouts as they defeated the Blasters 4-3 on their own turf in Kochi. Their new signing, Iain Hume demonstrated his quality as he was the top scorer for them, netting seven times in the 2016 season.
The Marina Machans’ Hero ISL 2016 campaign was one to forget. Inconsistency marred their performances as they registered just three wins out of 14 games. CFC struggled in defence as they conceded 25 goals in the season. They finished the campaign in seventh place with 15 points, failing to make it to the top four. Following an upsetting campaign, head coach Marco Materazzi parted ways with CFC by mutual consent.
Delhi Dynamos FC
Zianluca Zambrotta replaced Roberto Carlos as the head coach of Delhi Dynamos ahead of the Hero ISL 2015 season. The Dynamos scored the most number of goals this season, netting 27 times, securing the third spot in the league standings with 21 points. Zambrotta’s side had an impressive home record that season, not losing even once, that helped them reach their second-ever semi-final. The Dynamos went up against Kerala Blasters for a place in the final that ended in a 2-2 draw on aggregate in extra-time. But in the penalty shootouts, the Dynamos weren’t able to convert a single penalty, with even captain Florent Malouda missing one. As they lost to the Blasters. Their star striker, Marcelo Pereira won Golden Boot in the Hero ISL that season, netting 10 times. Captain Florent Malouda won the Hero of the League award after his consistent display of performances throughout the tournament.
The Gaurs led by Zico for the third successive Hero ISL season, finished last on the league table with 14 points. They didn’t start off well as they lost three of their opening fixtures. Zico couldn't find the right balance in his squad as the team continuously delivered substandard performances as FCG won just four games out of 14. In what may seem as a consolation to the fans, FCG’s last game was a spectacular nine-goal thriller as they defeated Chennaiyin FC 5-4.
Kerala Blasters FC
Former Crystal Palace manager Steve Coppell took over as the head coach of Kerala Blasters. Coppell’s side had a strong defensive record but lacked bite in the attack. The return of CK Vineeth who missed the first half of the season owing to his duties for Bengaluru FC in the AFC Cup turned things around for the Kochi-based side as he was the top scorer for them, netting 5 goals and providing an assist. The Tuskers sealed the second position on the league table with 22 points, qualifying for the semi-finals. After beating the Dynamos 3-0 on penalty shootouts in the semi-finals, the Blasters met ATK for the second time in the finals, unfortunately being on the losing end yet again. Despite losing the finals, the Blasters’ fans won everyone’s hearts by demonstrating humongous support to their team.
Mumbai City FC
The Islanders signed Costa Rican Alexandre Guimaraes as their new head coach ahead of the Hero ISL 2016 season. MCFC had an exceptional campaign as they finished top of the table with 23 points besides conceding just 8 goals, fewest in the league. Goalkeeper Amrinder Singh was a wall in goal, clinching the Golden Glove as he kept a season-best tally of five clean sheets. Moreover, their marquee signing, Diego Forlan, scored the first hat-trick of the Hero ISL 2015 season in their 5-0 win against Kerala Blasters. Guimaraes’ men went up against ATK in the semi-finals, losing 3-2 on aggregate after a goalless stalemate at their newly built home ground, Mumbai Football Arena in the second leg after the Islanders had lost 3-2 in Kolkata in an ill-tempered first leg.
NorthEast United FC
Portuguese Nelo Vingada replaced Cesar Farias as the new head coach of NEUFC ahead of the Hero ISL 2016 season. The Highlanders started the season well, winning 3 of their first five fixtures. Midway through the season, the Highlanders weren’t able to register a single victory, resulting in them not making it to the top four at the end of the season. Vingada’s side couldn’t produce the desired results as they ended the season fifth with 18 points in the league table.
FC Pune City
Former ATK manager Antonio Habas joined FC Pune City as the new head coach ahead of the Hero ISL 2015 season. Things didn’t go as planned for the Stallions as they registered just two wins in eight matches, losing 1-0 to arch-rivals MCFC in their opening fixture. FC Pune City were unable to make it to the top four for the third consecutive season. The Pune-based side concluded the season in the sixth spot with 16 points, registering just four wins in total.