Facing a 3-0 deficit after their first-leg defeat in Kochi, Chennaiyin knew they needed to put in a spirited effort to have any chance of making it to their final. In front of their home fans, the players did not disappoint, putting in a heroic performance to take the tie into extra time, with the game finishing 3-0 to Chennaiyin after 90 minutes. A dramatic, action-packed match ended in heart-breaking fashion for them, however, as Kerala Blasters’ Stephen Pearson slotted home a 117th-minute goal to put his side into the final and knock Chennai out.
Abhishek Das, who had come on as a first-half substitute when starting left-back Dhanachandra Singh was withdrawn due to injury, put in a stellar performance on the left flank, constantly getting forward as Chennaiyin placed the Kerala defence under constant pressure. The young wingback was distraught at being denied a shot at the glory of being the first champions of the Hero Indian Super League, especially in such dramatic fashion.
“It’s really disappointing, because we tried really hard,” Das said in an exclusive post-match interview withindiansuperleague.com. “You could see in the match that we had seven or eight clear chances to score. We could have beaten them easily. But we’ve had this problem of conceding late goals; so, in a match like this, it’s really disappointing and we’re very unhappy.”
Despite the result, Das was able to look back at the inaugural ISL season and reflect on the positives. “It’s been really good,” the youngster said of the experience, adding that his Chennaiyin team had to overcome a special set of obstacles. “We organised really late and we were the last team to do so. A big thanks to our owners; they’ve been really amazing. They’ve helped us in every situation.”
The 23-year-old went on to reveal that head coach Marco Materazzi had set a clear target for the team. “On the first day of training the coach told us that we have to win this league, and we came really close. It’s quite unlucky that we couldn’t get to the final.”
Das also related how Materazzi had made sure the team’s morale and confidence never wavered ahead of the second leg as they faced a daunting 3-0 deficit. “When we lost 3-0 in Kerala, we came back to the dressing room and we were ready for this match. We knew we could win here, and we were really confident that we could beat them by a 4-0 margin.”
The Kolkata-born defender had quickly struck up a friendship with veteran Bernard Mendy during preseason, and Das heaped the praise on his French colleague after Mendy put in a typically all-action display to help Chennaiyin claw back into the tie. “He’s a great player and a great person,” gushed Das. “He’s always encouraging us all time. We’re really lucky to have a player like him.”
In spite of the disappointment of the night, Das was grateful for the platform the ISL provided him and other Indian footballers. “It’s been a great experience for a young guy like me. I think I’ve matured a lot from this,” asserted the Chennaiyin defender. “Thanks to the players, the management, and IMG Reliance for organizing such a great tournament like this. Hopefully, it will develop our country’s football.”