It was worth it in the end.
120 minutes of grueling football, energy drained from every limb, tendons strained, the mental toughness to make sure there was no mistake, and Pritam Kotal scored the decisive penalty to send ATK Mohun Bagan to the Indian Super League final. Salt Lake Stadium specializes in roars, and the one that erupted after their captain ran into them was deafening.
However, for much of the game, silence reigned as Hyderabad and ATK Mohun Bagan engaged in a tactical battle. Juan Ferrando described it as a ‘pleasure’ to play against Hyderabad FC, but the 390 minutes the two teams have played this season have resulted in just two goals. The first leg of this semi-final had its share of redeeming qualities, but it’s fair to say that this second leg would have editors scrambling over images for their highlights package.
ERUPTING IN CALCUTTA! 😍
local boy and @atkmohunbaganfc Captain @KotalPritam did the job sealing a place in the #heroISL Finale 2022-23! 🤩#ATKMBHFC #HeroISLPlayoffs #LetsFootball #ATKMohunBagan #PritamKotal pic.twitter.com/OrrBHtsGr7
– Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague) March 13, 2023
Not that ATK Mohun Bagan cares, and their fans would be quick to say they deserved the win, with Manvir Singh pounding the crossbar, Lalrinliana Hnamte closing in with a delicious curl from distance and Nikhil Poojari denying Liston Colaco a touch. That’s the game summed up in one sentence, telling you everything you need to know about it.
Javi Siverio had Hyderabad’s first shot on target in the 86th minute, but the visitors did little more than mess up, with Sahil Tavora being mentioned by his boss in the post-match interview for his excellence in said messing up.
Manolo Márquez’s luck had to run out eventually this season, his team had taken hit after hit throughout the season, and it was to their credit that they took penalties to finally end his season. That seemed the only way to penetrate the yellow wall in Kolkata, which covered every gap, scrapped every ball and blocked every shot. Ferrando gambled away Kiyan Nassiri and Hugo Boumous, who had put in excellent performances, but the casino didn’t care tonight. There was no ace up the sleeve on the part of the field players.
Penalties, described as a “cruel and cruel phenomenon” last night, were a sweet relief this time. Make no mistake, this game would have remained scoreless even if there were another 120 minutes in Salt Lake. The ever-patient home crowd cheered when the final whistle blew after extra time. It leaked into Pritam Kotal, who gathered his teammates into a huddle and urged them to make one last push.
The prize was staring them in the face: a place in the final after an on-and-off season, in which they and their coach had legitimately won. And then the lottery started.
Joao Victor and Dimi Petratos made no mistake, shooting to their left and the ball deflected into the top corner. Wouldn’t there be a separation between these two teams, not even with penalties?
No, Vishal Kaith said.
Goalies have proven their mettle of late, and after Kaith’s playoff trip involved the ambulance on the field and a trip to the hospital, an incredible save to deny Joel Chianese (who, on reflection, is a match winner), and now, penalty. heroism
Javi Siverio, with the fresh legs of a substitute, wasn’t tired -it wasn’t going to be a rough effort- but Kaith hit the mark and saved with aplomb. The roar erupted and, unbelievably, grew louder as Gallego led his effort, encouraging the crowd to raise the roof. After all, Bart Ogbeche was next. A dead certificate. The man who stayed on the field, completely devoid of energy, only to take a penalty.
Ogbeche’s low effort was almost too perfect, flying past Kaith but spinning from inside the post and out. That roar, again. ATK Mohun Bagan, again.
If felt inevitable even after Rohit Danu and Manvir Singh converted their efforts, but Brendan Hamill deflected his effort. Reagan Singh then made sure that ATKMB had to score their final penalty. Silence, again. Nerves again.
No, Pritam Kotal said.
The captain’s armband, the burden of Kolkata football expectations, the roller coaster of a season, Kotal had every reason to miss out. However, it is moments like these that this stalwart Indian lives for. His coup left Gurmeet Singh without a chance, burying Hyderabad and raising the roof of Salt Lake Stadium.
The final of the ISL, the applause, the vindication of Juan Ferrando. It didn’t matter how they got there, what mattered was that they got there.
It was worth it in the end.
A night that started with smog and blurry vision ended with pure clarity: ATK Mohun Bagan always seem to be on top of Indian football, and they do it in every way possible.