Bollywood actor Abhishek Bachchan and India ODI and Twenty20 skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s co-owned team Chennaiyin FC stormed into the final of the Indian Super League on 4-2 aggregate against defending champions Atletico de Kolkata despite losing the semifinal second leg 1-2 . Chennaiyin, who beat ATK 3-0 in the semifinal first leg on December 12 in Pune, now take on FC Goa in the summit clash at Margao on December 20.
In search of three goals to overturn their first leg deficit, ATK started off on the front foot and were rewarded for their efforts with a goal from Dejan Lekic in the 22nd minute following a error of judgment by Chennaiyin defender Bernard Mendy.
Iain Hume reduced the deficit and brought the packed 68,340 ATK supporters at the Saltlake stadium on their feet in the 87th minute after he converted from a Dejan Lekic cross. But former ATK forward Fikru Teferra, who came in as a substitute, brought the heartbreak, scoring an injury time goal for Chennaiyin in the 90+2nd minute.
As ATK pressed for a third goal, it was their goalkeeper Amrinder Singh who showed erroneous judgment and went out of his area as Fikru gained the possession before slotting the ball home with ease. It was Fikru’s first goal for his new team Chennaiyin and that shut the door on ATK.
ATK coach Antonio Habas was animated, and absolutely furious with the referee and the linesman after Fikru’s introduction in place of Stiven Mendoza in the 88th minute. The referee sent off the Spaniard in the dying minutes of the match. ATK got a ray of hope when the visitors’ most trusted defender Mendy committed an error costing them an easy goal in the 22nd minute.
Known for his solidity at the heart of defence, Mendy tried to head the ball back to his goalkeeper but had a loose connect and Lekic, lurking upfront, was quick to pounce on it with a deft touch past the onrushing Bete to reduce the aggregate margin to two goals.
The goal was enough to put pressure on Chennaiyin as ATK intensified their attack and almost doubled the lead in the next minute when Izumi Arata’s shot took a deflection off Lekic but Bete avoided any further damage. In the 40th minute, Sameehg Doutie was on the run from the right flank before launching a powerful right-footer but Bete stood in the way. Just before the break, Stiven Mendoza was hit on his head with a high boot from Jaime Gavilan as the latter went to clear the ball from inside the box but the Colombian was fine and resumed action after the changeover.
The former ATK goalkeeper Bete continued his good work after the changeover even as the home team went all guns blazing and even resorted to physical play in an action-filled second half. There was chaos near the touchline as Nalappan Mohan Raj appeared to head-butt and shove Mendoza with the referee in between but Yudai Yamamoto only flashed a yellow on the former.
Playing with Hume, Lekic and Doutie upfront in a rejigged 4-4-3 line-up, there was no let up in intensity from ATK but it was Chennaiyin who held on to their lead. Chennaiyin had a few chances of their own but could not really test Amrinder Singh barring the 11th minute effort by Stiven Mendoza which was brilliantly thwarted by the ATK goalkeeper with a full dive towards his left.