Road to the final: Ivan Vukomanovic engineers Kerala Blasters FC back among the mix
Outshining Jamshedpur FC in a 2-1 aggregate victory in the semi-finals, Kerala Blasters FC see themselves on to their third-ever final in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) history.
Finishing fourth in the points table and qualifying for the semi-finals after eliminating Mumbai City FC in the league phase of the season, KBFC head coach Ivan Vukomanovic - already a fan favourite amongst the Kerala Blasters FC followers - guided his team to their first-ever semi-final finish since 2016.
From losing their opening match to arch-rivals ATK Mohun Bagan to making it to the top four, Kerala Blasters FC have come a long way, let us have a look at their journey to the Hero ISL Final.
The season opener nightmare against ATK Mohun Bagan
Things didn’t go as planned for the Blasters’ as their season opener against arch-rivals ATK Mohun turned out to be a big blow. The Mariners, under the then head coach Antonio Habas, dominated the game from the word go and found the back of the net thrice in the first half. Vukomanovic’s men couldn’t handle the pacey attack and were outnumbered in the game which ended as a 2-4 defeat.
The cracker against Mumbai City FC
After a series of three draws and one loss in the following four games, Kerala Blasters were up against Mumbai City FC, who at the time were on a roll with a 4-game winning streak and had lost only one game in their last six matches. With the help of Sahal Abdul Samad, Alvaro Vazquez, and Jorge Diaz, KBFC ended the Islanders’ winning streak with a resounding 3-0 victory and set the course for the season ahead.
An end to the 10-game unbeaten run
Climning to the top of the table in the previous game alongside on a 10-game unbeaten run, Kerala Blasters FC were brought down by Bengaluru FC in a 1-0 loss, denting their position in the league table.
The enthralling 2-2 draw against ATK Mohun Bagan
Getting so close to registering their first-ever ISL win over ATK Mohun Bagan, the Blasters’ 2-1 lead was spoiled by an injury time equaliser from Joni Kauko. An end-to-end game between both sides, Luna put his side ahead in the seventh minute, but the Mariners’ David Williams responded quickly by scoring an equaliser in the next minute.
Luna, again, scored a scrumptious goal to put his side ahead, and all was said and done before the referee handed out a red card to each side - Jorge Pereyra Diaz and Prabir Das. Within no time, Joni Kauko came out of nowhere to equalise in stoppage time. Arguably one of the best games of the tournament.
A virtual quarter-final against Mumbai City FC
Needing a win to nearly secure the semi-final spot, this game witnessed a historic win as not only did Kerala Blasters FC seal their berth in the semi-finals but also completed the league double over Mumbai City FC for the first time ever in Hero ISL. Sahal Samad handed his side the lead at half-time followed by goals from Alvaro Vazquez, and a Diego Mauricio consolation penalty goal.
The Semi-final story
Facing Jamshedpur FC in the semi-final, Vukomanovic’s men were winless against the Men of Steel in the league phase of the season and faced an uphill battle as the Owen Coyle side were recently crowned as the League Winners and were on a 7-game winning streak. The first leg saw a cheeky little chip from Sahal Samad after a shabby headed clearance from Jamshedpur FC defender Ricky Lallawmawma being the differentiator as both sides held onto their goal.
A draw or a win meant a job done for Vukomanovic’s men in the second leg. The Blasters’ wizard Adrian Luna came to the rescue yet again with a sublime finish in the 18th minute to put his team first. The Men of Steel pulled one back through Pronay Halder in the 50th minute but it didn’t suffice through the 90 minutes, meaning Kerala Blasters FC found themselves in the Hero ISL Final after a wait of six years.
Kerala Blasters FC have a shot at creating history and get their name engraved on the trophy.