Thursday, March 23, 2023
HomeSportsATK Mohun Bagan book a place in the ISL final

ATK Mohun Bagan book a place in the ISL final

Pritam Kotal sucked in air, looked down and blasted the penalty that took ATK Mohun Bagan into the final of the Indian Super League (ISL). Job done, 4-3 winners in the shootout after open play ended 0-0 across two legs, Kotal spread his arms and Salt Lake stadium roared like their captain was Shah Rukh Khan.

The defending champions will go home because golden glove winner Vishal Kaith saved Javier Saviero’s effort and Bartholomew Ogbeche’s shot kissed the inside of the post and rolled out. On such fine margins was the semi-final between two defensively adroit teams decided. Dimitri Petratos, Federico Gallego, and the superb Manvir Singh scored before Kotal and Brendan Hamill missed. For Hyderabad FC, Joao Victor, Rohit Danu and Reagan Singh converted penalties.

At the smog lifted on a muggy Monday, ATK Mohun Bagan emerged headlights on. They were at the wheel in this semi-final second leg but not in complete control. So, Petratos’ effort careened into the night when a pass to Kiyan Nassiri would have been the better option. Moments earlier, Glan Martins couldn’t bend it into the top corner. In the 22nd minute, Manvir, whose industry meant Akash Mishra couldn’t overlap as left-back till the 77th minute, banged into the horizontal. This was after he had headed a corner too close to Gurmeet Singh.

But, for all their variety in attack, ATK Mohun Bagan couldn’t score in a contest that has traditionally seen few goals – both games in the league phase ended 1-0 before Thursday’s 0-0 draw – Hyderabad FC were never out of the game. They defended with discipline with Sahil Tavora in the middle and Odei Onaindia at the back being the first among equals. Yet, back to front, the home team was better and when in the 57th minute, Ashish Rai swung into space, Hugo Boumous fired a first-timer which Gurmeet blocked. And 50,000 despaired in unison.

By then, ATK Mohun Bagan had replaced the exuberance of Nassiri for the experience of Liston Colaco but got a lot of poor first touches instead. Still, they could have scored but Slavko Damjanovic couldn’t get proper contact to a Petratos free-kick. Then, Carl McHugh headed over a Petratos’ corner-kick. In the 120th Kotal’s header, off a Federico Gallego corner-kick, was off target. But on the back of a superb season, Kotal had a shot at redemption. This time, he wouldn’t miss.

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