Atletico de Kolkata secured the point they needed to qualify for semi-finals of Indian Super League with a composed 1-1 draw against Kerala Blasters at Rabindra Sarobar Stadium, Kolkata, on Tuesday.
CK Vineeth gave Kerala Blasters an eighth minute lead but Kolkata restored parity in the 18th minute through Stephen Pearson to take his team to the semi-finals. Kolkata now have 19 points and will qualify along with Delhi Dynamos (20 points from 12 matches), thanks to their superior head to head record against both Kerala Blasters and NorthEast United FC, leaving Kerala Blasters and NorthEast United FC to battle for the final play-off spot. Both teams play against each other in Indian Super League's concluding league clash on December 4 with Kerala needing only a draw.
Kerala Blasters needed a win to jump closer to play-offs and they got a perfect start in the eighth minute when their star man, CK Vineeth, provided them with a lucky lead. A cross from the left by Mehtab Hossain should have been collected cleanly by Kolkata goalkeeper Debjit Majumder but the goalkeeper made a mess of the collection, dropping the ball to the ground where Cedric Hengbart turned it away from the group for Vineeth to head it inside an empty goal.
The goal upset Kolkata's rhythm but soon they regained their composure, holding on to the ball for long spells and threatening their rivals with swift play. Ten minutes later, Kolkata drew level through Stephen Pearson in one of the more impressive team goals scored in ISL. It was Helder Postiga and Iain Hume who laid the foundations for this goal as they played a nice one-two among themselves and before the Kerala defence realized what was to follow, Postiga sent a through ball for Pearson who made a perfect run and slammed the ball past goalkeeper Graham Stack.
Kolkata had a lot of the ball but didn't create too many clear chances. They had only three shots on goal in the opening 45 minutes, one of which resulted in a goal.
Kerala's numbers in attack in the first quarter were impressive but they could not score more than a goal. They came close in the closing stages of the first session when Josu Prieto's cross from the left saw Elhadji Ndoye with a free header but the Senegalese midfielder could not keep it on target. Another free header by Mohammad Rafi in the 43rd minute was wide of the target.
In the second session, Atletico de Kolkata shut shop, allowing little space for Kerala to get the winner. A draw was all that Kolkata needed to qualify and they were happy seeing out this one, without further damage. Kerala got closest to scoring the winner in the 77th minute when Mehtab's corner saw Rafi attempt a half-volley which was blocked by Pritam Kotal, who put his body on the line.