Kerala Blasters FC took a giant step to secure their place in the title round by thumping Chennaiyin FC 3-0 at home in the first leg of the first semi-final. Goals from Ishfaq Ahmed, Iain Hume and a brilliant added time curler from substitute Sushant Mathew saw David James’ side take a decisive lead in the race to the final.
The home side started off in right earnest but it was the visitors who had the first genuine chance of the match. Bernard Mendy from right full back made a surging run forward and slipped in Jeje Lalpekhlua with a beautiful through ball. The Indian beat the offside trap and but only managed to fire a weak shot which Sandip Nandy saved with ease. Kerala could have gone ahead in the 26th minute when Iain Hume floated in a superb free-kick from the left over the defence, James McAllister rose highest to head past Gennaro Bracigliano and ran off in celebration only to see the linesman raise the offside flag.
A minute later however, the hosts did take the lead. Victor ‘Pulga’ Forcada ran down the centre and released Ahmed on the left who shot past Bracigliano on the run. Less than two minutes later, Kerala doubled their lead after a terrible defensive header from Alessandro Nesta. Hume was relayed the ball in the box and promptly swivelled and smashed past the French keeper to send the jam packed Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in raptures.
Chennai tried to fashion a few moves of their own but were unable to get the momentum they needed. Michael Chopra even managed another powerful shot on target in the 43rd minute but the goalkeeper managed to hold on to the ball.
Chennai came out with renewed intent in the second half. They dominated the proceedings but could not make it count. Kerala on their part were more content playing from behind and counter-attacking. Hume persisted with his constant movement that caused the Chennai defence immense problems. Marco Materazzi withdrew Elano Blumer for Bruno Pelissari quickly into the second half to preserve the Brazilian international who had just returned from injury. Pelissari wasn’t able to make much of a difference as he wasn’t afforded any space. It was the home side who almost scored a third in the 79th minute when Andrew Barisic’s shot was parried by Bracigliano. Stephen Pearson bolted forward in the hope of netting the rebound but the ball bounced up for the Australian who headed towards an open net but the goalkeeper recovered in time to keep his shot out.
Susbstitute Mathew who came on late for Ahmed put the icing on the cake after bulging the net with a gem of a curler from outside the box following a swift counter-attack on the right. It was literally the last kick of the game as the referee blew for full time seconds later to send Kochi into wild celebrations.
Kerala will play the second leg of their semi-final away on December 16. David James, who was in the stands today, will be a mighty pleased man knowing that his team have their job cut out to make the final.