There are winds of change along Eastern Metropolitan Bye-pass. The city marches along the giant East West connector twice a year when the traditional rivals East Bengal and Mohun Bagan lock horns. They carry their respective flags and paint their faces with their respective colours.But today Atletico de Kolkata (ATK) was playing. And my car stood at an unusually long red, two signals before the gargantuan stadium. Curious I craned out to see an energetic group of young men cross the road shouting a slogun: “Jitbe Ke…ATK” (Who will win? But ATK of course). As I neared the stadium I was pleasantly surprised to see a giant congregation of red-white stripes heading their way inside the stadium. For the first time the red-golds and green-maroons blend together as the fans rooted for their city. 35,000 and more.
If football is the popular opium of the Bengalees, Atletico de Kolkata looks to be its veritable prop-up. ATK has successfully broken down unseen wall that divided the city into two halves. If off the field they have been both magnanimous and magnetic, on the field they have played like champions.
This Sunday was no different. They went into overdrive from the word go dishing out attacks into the Kerala Blasters territory with consummate ease. The restlessness of Joffre in the midfield, piercing runs of Lobo and Borja upfront and Arnal’s pick-pocketing balls from the rivals along the centre half left the visitors in much discomfort.
In one such move Arnal snatched the ball in the midfield and fed Joffre Gonzales on the left. Joffre cut in and send a measured minus to which Cavin Lobo sold a dummy. Borja lay the ball in the path of a surging Baljit Sahni whose rasping volley put ATK ahead 21 minutes into the game.
ATK could well have gone up 2-0 in the next ten minutes, when Cavin Lobo befuddled the Kerala defenders again letting a Kingshuk Debnath through head for an overlapping Borja. However, Cedric Hengbart took advantage of a heavy second touch from the Spanish medio and cleared the danger.
It needed something special to beat the ATK defence and 40 minutes into the match Kerala Blasters did that restored parity through Ian Hume after being set up by Milagres Gonzalves via a gorgeous back flick.
Post lemon break ATK could have taken the lead once again, but for the woodwork that prevented a Baljit volley from going in after Joffre set him up with a measured cross. Ten minutes later Arnal came close to scoring but for a body block from Sandesh. Three minutes into extra time Joffre could have made the difference between the two sides, but sliced the ball wide with an inviting open goal in front.
The last 15 minutes of the match tired legs slowed down the pace. But ATK made sure that they collected one more point to move up to 11 points on the leader board. Fikru saw the match from the stands, looking as involved as he would have been had he been on the turf. After the match he obliged the autograph hunters before disappearing into the VIP exit. In contrast Manager Antonio Lopez Habas in an all black suit watched the game intently from the confines of the hospitality box.