After 75 days of frenzied football, it all boils down to the Hero ISL final. The Kerala Blasters will lock horns with Atletico de Kolkata at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Kochi on Sunday.
Although a repeat of the ISL 1 final, plenty has changed since Atletico de Kolkata lifted the trophy in Mumbai 2 years ago. While ATK have been the most consistent team so far in the ISL, Kerala have had a wavy run. Sachin Tendulkar’s team were almost at the crest as they finished runners up in season 1, then hit a deep trough in season 2 where they finished at the bottom of the table. This year, Steve Coppell’s men have the chance to hit the peak as they face off against ATK in their own den.
A match of this intensity demands players to rise to their absolute best. While both Steve Copell and Jose Molina are tactically sound, TheHardTackle analyses 3 key battles in the game which could decide the outcome of ISL 3.
Iain Hume vs Cedric Hengbart
This will be the most fascinating battle of the final. Hume is the top-scorer of the ISL, with 23 goals in 45 appearances. However, Hengbart has been rock-solid in defense for Kerala, partnering wonderfully with Subhash Jhingan. Hengbart will have the difficult task of keeping Hume at bay, else the Canadian international might take the game away from Kerala, just like he did against Mumbai City FC in the first leg of their playoff tie.
In terms of physicality, Hengbart can match Hume, but the worrying factor for any defender who comes up against the former Kerala Blasters striker is quickness. Hume is incredibly quick and does not allow the defenders any breathing space by pressing high up the pitch. Should Hengbart contain the threat of Iain Hume, Kerala Blasters will have an outstanding chance of getting their hands on the ISL trophy.
Sameehg Doutie Vs Kervens Belfort
This battle is not between defender and attacker. This is the battle of opposite numbers. Doutie and Belfort will be on the right and left wing respectively, and this is another interesting prospect. Belfort, with the ball at his feet, is better than Doutie in terms of skill and trickery. The Haitian International goes past players with ease and guile that has won the hearts of the Kerala faithful. Doutie is more one dimensional in his approach, as the South African prefers to go on the outside of the full-back and cross the ball.
The fascinating question, however, is who will run the show on Kerala’s left and ATK’s right wing? As mentioned before, Belfort will look to take on Rino Anto, but Doutie, as good as he is going forward, makes himself useful in defense too. The 27-year old tracks back on almost every single occasion, and that means he will help Anto in keeping Belfort on his toes.
Javi Lara Vs Mehtab Hossain
When Kerala faced Delhi in their playoff second leg, Mehtab Hossain had just one job on the pitch: keeping Florent Malouda at bay. The 31-year old followed Delhi’s marquee man everywhere, and allowed the Frenchman very little space in midfield. Against Javi Lara, Mehtab will have a similar task. Lara was sensational in ATK’s second leg against Mumbai City FC, as the Spaniard ran the show at the Andheri Sports Complex.
Javi Lara has and outstanding range of passing with both feet. And with the likes of Helder Postiga and Iain Hume ahead of him, Mehtab must stop him moving freely in midfield, else Lara could run riot.
75000 tickets have been sold out two days before the final in Kochi, and it promises to be a clash of two titans. Will Atletico de Kolkata emerge victorious yet again? Or is revenge on the mind of Kerala?