The most awaited day in this year’s calendar had arrived. It was the opening matchday of Indian Super League season 6 between Kerala Blasters and ATK, and it was in god’s own country, Kochi. A packed house at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium as a sea of yellow met the players walking onto the pitch. An electric performance at the opening ceremony by Bollywood actors Tiger Shroff and Disha Patani kicked off the matchday.
Strong lineups announced by both teams as B.Ogbeche and Pritam Kotal captained their respective teams, but the major name missing on the team sheets was that of Sandesh Jhingan who was out with an ACL injury. 7:30 PM IST and the referee blew the start of the 1st half.
ATK were off to a brilliant start as a ball whipped in on a set piece to Kerala’s box in the 6th minute was headed towards McHugh by Agus, who hit it first time beating Bilal Khan in goal for Kerala and put the visitors in the lead on the opening match day. A magnificent strike by the center back opened the goal count for the season. ATK striker, Roy Krishna ran straight through the Kerala defense but his final pass was intercepted by the defense. David Williams’ goal was disallowed for offside and a penalty claim waived off for ATK for a clumsy tackle on Soosairaj by KB midfielder Cidoncha . ATK were all over Kerala, until a pull on Jairo by Pronay during a corner lead to the referee pointing to the spot. Ogbeche converted his spot kick as Kerala equalized in the 30th minute. Kochi erupted as they found their voice again. End to end stuff as both the teams fought it out in the rain.
Kochi erupted again on the 45th minute as a fluffed clearance by Pronay in ATK’s box rolled to Ogbeche who found the top corner of the ATK’s goal. Goal of the season already? Arindam could have done nothing to save that strike. The first half came to an end with Eelco being the happier of the two coaches taking a 2-1 lead. The second half kicked off with ATK man Williams missing his target from 2 yards out during a corner kick. A ball whipped in by young Rakip was headed wide by Gning. Gning’s runs from midfield were not picked up by the ATK players and posed a threat for them. First change came on the 65th minute for the hosts as Mario Arques replaced Cidoncha who slotted in at Kerala’s dynamic midfield.
Another opportunity for Roy Krishna hit a Kerala defender. A ball put in by P.Das found Krishna whose touch let him down and allowed Jairo to put in his tackle. The Fiji international was creating all kinds of problems for the Kerala defense. Sehnaj and Edu Garcia were brought on as Antonio Habas looked to get something out of the game.
Kochi erupted for a third time, not for a goal but for the crowd favorite Sahal coming on during the 82nd minute for Jeakson who put in a shift for the team. Penalty claim for ATK was waived off by the referee as Sehnaj’s shot hit Gning. It was a debut in yellow to forget for Arques as he was stretchered off towards the end of the second half due to what appeared to be a hamstring pull.
5 minutes were added on as Messi replaced the injured Arques. The last chance fell to Balwant Singh who placed his header wide. Kerala held onto all 3 points and headed to the top of the table.
Striker Ogbeche’s brace placed him 1st on the goal scoring charts and was hence presented the Man of the Match trophy.