Kerala begin on winning note

Kerala begin on winning note

A slice of action from the ISL opening game between Kerala Blasters and ATK in Kolkata on Saturday. PTI

Former champions ATK suffered a 0-2 defeat to two-time runners-up Kerala Blasters in the opening match of the fifth Indian Super League (ISL) at the Saltlake Stadium here on Saturday.

Matej Poplatnik and Slavisia Stojanovic scored in the second half as Kerala scored only their second win over the Kolkata franchise, and first since the 2014 edition.

After enduring a nightmarish ninth-place finish in the last season, ATK might have overhauled the squad roping in a trusted coach in Steve Coppell but their fate remained unchanged as they struggled to keep pace with the Kerala Blasters. The David James-coached outfit looked in its elements right from the start with Slovenian Poplatnik continuously raiding ATK’s box before he broke the deadlock in the 77th minute.

However, it was Stojanovic who took the first shot at the goal with his left-footer but it deflected off Gerson Vieira.

An alert Poplatnik got behind the defence and slotted the ball home with a perfect finish to bring up the first goal of the ISL opening night.

There was more misery in store for ATK as the Serbian Stojanovic doubled the lead from a long ball from Halicharan Narzary. The Kerala No eight took the ball in his stride with a touch to his left, cut it back in on his right and curled it beautifully in the top right corner.

Playing the first match of the season, both the teams put up an unsettled look as a goalless stalemate prevailed in the first 45 minutes.

But there was no dearth of action with the visitors dominating the proceedings while ATK’s defence in Aiborlang Khongjee, Gerson Vieira, John Johnson, Lalhmangaisanga Ralte looked a bit shaky.

ATK, however, got the best opportunity in the first half, even as Kerala’s Slovenian forward Poplatnik remained a constant threat in the home team’s box right from the start as he shot wide from a free kick in the fourth minute.

It was Jayesh Rane who found himself in the dock as the ATK winger failed to convert an open header from El Maimouni’s 39th-minute corner.

Minutes after he received the first yellow card of this season, Noussair swung in the corner from the left with Rane at the far post but he missed to direct it in the right side of the post in a heartbreak for the Coppell’s team.

Earlier Indian athletics golden girl Hima Das presented the ceremonial match ball to kick off the fifth season. 

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