Helder Postiga justified his tag of marquee player by netting a brace, as Atletico de Kolkata began their title defence with a 3-2 victory over Chennaiyin FC in a hard-fought encounter that kick-started the second season of the Indian Super League here on Saturday.
Postiga struck once in each half, while Frenchman Valmiro Lopes Rocha (Valdo) was the other scorer for the winners at the packed Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. Jeje Lalpekhlua and Elano Blumer found the target for Chennaiyin.
Atletico went up in the 13th minute, following horrible goalkeeping by Edel Apoula. Borja Fernandez essayed a long cross from the deep and Apoulo rushed out, but failed to collect the ball which bounced out of his hands and the Portugese Postiga found himself in the clear. The seasoned campaigner made no mistake in putting the sphere in.
Stung by the reverse, Channaiyin upped the ante and carried out a series of attacks at the opponent citadel. They finally equalised at the stoke of the half hour. Upfronter Fikru Teferra, who tried to keep the ATK defenders on the edge with his thrusts and energetic manoeuvres despite being closely marked, went for the ball alongside rival custodian Amrinder Singh. The Ethiopian was quicker, but the shot rebounded off the goalkeeper, and Jeje – standing nearby – placed home.
The first half saw Atletico gain more possession, but the home side had the greater number of shots at the goal, besides carrying out two-thrids of the attacks in the session. Though Atletico started as the more aggressive side, they conceded the initiative after netting the goal.
Crossing over, the two sides battled neck and neck, but Fikru seemed to be losing steam and Chennaiyin manager Marco Materazzi, who had to sit in the stands due to the red card he received in the second leg of last season’s semi-finals, brought in John Stiven Mendoza Valencia as a replacement.
The defending champions seized the lead in the 68th minute, capitalising on another Chennaiyin FC defensive error. Bernard Mendy’s back header landed into a rival player’s path, and Postiga received the through, outwitted Lalhmangaihsanga Ralte and put the ball into the back of the net.
However, it was also curtains for the double world cupper in the match, as he pulled a muscle to make way for Valmiro Lopes Rocha (Valdo), who emerged as a super sub by adding his name to the scorers’ list in the 76th minute.
Fed by Javi Lara, Iain Edward Hume sent a measured cross for the Spaniard, who outjumped his marker and spectacularly headed into the goal.
The visitors could have struck an insurance goal three minutes later, when Mendy blocked a low cross from Baljit Sahni with his hand and the referee awarded a penalty. But Lara’s spot kick was saved by Edel at the cost of a corner.
Unwilling to give up, Chennaiyin went all out, and earned a penalty in the 88th minute as ATK defender Arnab Mandal committed a handball in trying to effect a clearance.
Brazilian Elano found the target from the easiest of set pieces by dispatching the ball into the left corner of the net.
It was the first decisive result in three meetings between the two sides, who drew both their encounters last year.