Atletico de Kolkata beat Kerala Blasters 1-0 on Saturday to win the inaugural Indian Super League season, thanks to a last-minute goal from super-sub Mohammed Rafique. The ISL's official Twitter feed congratulated Kolkata:
The Blasters came into the final as slight favourites after their win over Chennaiyin FC, and they took the better start, dominating possession deep in Kolkata's half. Iain Hume was one of the top performers of the past ISL season, and the Canadian was once again looked at to lead the charge.
Atletico had the first shot on goal, however, but Baljit Sahni's wild effort flew well over the bar. Ishfaq Ahmed tried to replicate his effort for Kerala, but Apoula Edel was positioned well to snuff out the chance.
The first half didn't produce may chances, as both teams appeared afraid to lose and were unwilling to take any real chances. David James had virtually nothing to do until Arnal popped up in front of him in the 35th minute, drawing a fine save from the former England international.
The ball fell back to Borja Fernandez who fired from distance, but James recovered in time to make another stop. Kerala's official Twitter feed was impressed:
The Blasters kept pushing forward, and Hume nearly broke the deadlock after 40 minutes. His free-kick was turned away on the line by Edel, who was quickly becoming the hero for Kolkata.
Author Satbir Singh though the goalkeeper was making an impression:
The score was 0-0 at half-time, and as noted by Express Sports, the best chances were for Kolkata despite Kerala's dominance of the ball:
Kerala came out with far more energy to start the second half, determined to score early and force Kolkata into attacking. Edel was able to intervene on a high cross just before Hume could nod it home, and Stephen Pearson's sliced effort minutes later just missed the target.
Michael Chopra then found some space, only to see the ball punched away by Edel once again, per Sportzwiki:
Atletico were clinging on for dear life, although Sanju Pradhan managed a shot for his side, blasting well over James' goal.
Hume should have given Kerala the lead after 55 minutes, but the forward took too long alone in front of Edel, allowing the defenders to eventually block his shot.
Sandesh Jhingan nearly gave Kolkata a shock lead by scoring an own-goal, but fortunately for the youngster, the ball took a lucky bounce and went out of play. Atletico started to grow more into the match, and Arnal flashed a shot across goal, isolated in front of James. Goal India couldn't believe it:
The Spaniard went down inside the box after 76 minutes, appearing to have been pulled back as he was trying to shoot, but Arnal didn't complain when the official waved to play on.
The final 10 minutes were as nervy as they come, and Chopra could have won his team the title when he wriggled himself into the box before firing a shot straight at Edel.
The ISL's official Twitter feed wondered what Kerala had to do to beat the Kolkata stopper:
The match seemed destined to go to extra time until Atletico were given a corner kick in the very last minute, and substitute Rafique headed the ball home at the near post. With no team left on the clock, Blasters knew their fate was sealed:
The Kerala players left the pitch in obvious disappointment, having dominated large stretches of the match, while Edel was rightfully given the Man of the Match award. Kolkata rode their in-form stopper and made the most of their chances, striking late to win the title.
Atletico sat atop the standings for a large part of the season before a drop in form caused them to slide to third, and they regained momentum at just the right time. They scored the very first goal in ISL history, and from that perspective, it was only fitting they'd score the last of its first season as well, with the very last kick of the final.
The ISL's inaugural season was one filled with upsets and late drama, and given the successful first edition of the tournament, there's little doubt we'll be seeing Kolkata and Kerala again next year, for the 2015 ISL campaign.