Kervens Belfort’s stunning goal just beyond the hour mark proved to be the difference as Kerala Blasters continued their good home run to beat Delhi Dynamos 1-0 in the first leg of the semi-final of the Hero Indian Super League.
Kerala Blasters FC will take a narrow but important advantage in their Hero Indian Super League second leg semi-final to be played away after putting the Delhi Dynamos FC through the sword, winning 1-0 in the first leg at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi on Sunday.
Playing in front of a massive crowd, the pressure was palpable on the Blasters to continue their impressive home run. Kerala managed to show their fans that they had been right to back them in numbers as they registered their sixth consecutive home win, courtesy of a 65th minute strike from Kervens Belfort.
Kerala were on a five-game winning streak at home going into the match and they seemed to be in good shape for this first leg semi-final encounter. With Mehtab Hossain returning from suspension and Josu Prieto also back, Kerala boss Steve Coppell arguably had his best possible group of players to choose from.
Delhi Dynamos too looked good at start with all players being available and they almost silenced the huge crowd in the first minute itself. A long hopeful ball from midfield saw Florent Malouda take aim but a clearance saw the ball fall for Kean Lewis. Before the Delhi Dynamos winger could try his luck, defender Cedric Hengbart stood in his way and deflected the ball away for a corner.
A minute later, it was Kerala’s turn to give Delhi a scare. From a counter attack, Belfort ran the length and set it up for an unmarked CK Vineeth. There was Duckens Nazon to his left but the in-form Indian striker chose to go for goal and saw his shot narrowly miss the goal as they ricocheted off the side netting.
Delhi were growing into the game as the first half progress and almost managed to break the deadlock when top scorer Marcelinho Pereira went close in the 35th minute. The Brazilian did well to push his way past Mehtab Hossain and Didier Kadio but goalkeeper Sandip Nandy proved equal to the challenge. The Indian stopper pulled off a miraculous save and sent the fans into a state of euphoria.
Kerala thought they had scored their opening goal and the stadium erupted in joy when Belfort put the ball into the net but that celebration proved premature as the assistant referee ruled that Belfort had handled the ball before scoring in the 45th minute. It was disappointing for the hosts as they had been the better side in every department and deserved to go into the break with a cushion over their opponents.
In the second period, Belfort and Kerala Blasters were not to be denied. The home team drew first blood in the 65th minute when the lethal talisman received an immaculate pass a few yards before the opposition half. The Haiti international ran a long distance with the ball, sent defender Ruben Gonzalez Rocha the wrong way and took a chance with only the goalkeeper to beat. The shot wasn’t powerful enough but a deflection from the sliding Anas Edathodika was enough to catch goalkeeper Antonio Doblas on the wrong foot and the ball sailed into the net.
Delhi’s response was strong with Malouda testing the rival goalkeeper and 10 minutes later, Kerala survived their biggest scare. A corner kick from the former Chelsea midfielder saw Kerala head it out but the ball came back for Marcos Tebar who lobbed it inside the goalmouth where Marcelinho headed it dangerously towards goal but Hengbart proved Kerala’s saviour by heading it off the line.
The second leg between the two teams will be played at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi on Wednesday. There is still everything to play for as both sides are equally optimistic of making the march into the elusive finale of the Indian Super League.