Kerala Blasters defeat Bengaluru 2-1 on the opening day of 2023-24 ISL
The Tuskers from the coast of God’s Own Country have lit the first fireworks of the 2023-24 season of the Indian Super League with a victorious 2-1 prowess over the southern counterparts.
Keziah Veendorp’s own goal in the 52nd minute awarded the Yellow and Blues lead while a 69th-minute strike from Adrian Luna ensured maiden three points for Kerala Blasters. Curtis Main with a consolation goal (90′) managed to revive the hopes of Bengaluru for a while but eventually couldn’t save them from a losing outcome in Match No. 1 of the tenth ISL edition at Kochi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
In the inaugural fixture, managers of both sides went on to name a hefty number of debutants in their lineup. The Kerala gaffer Ivan Vukomanovic handed maiden starts to eight players while the visiting club’s starting XI also featured four newly arrived faces.
The 22-year-old Thrissur-born goalkeeper Sachin Suresh was preferred over the veteran Karanjit Singh to guard the Blasters’ goal in the season opener. Meanwhile, the ‘Great Wall of India’ Gurpreet Singh Sandhu led the Blues onto the battlefield in the absence of first-choice skipper Sunil Chhetri.
A kick-off whistle blown by the referee Rahul Kumar Gupta was followed by the home team in classic Yellow and Blue colors taking the first kick against the visitors who donned their brand new White and Red kits.
The Manjappada Army which turned in huge numbers started making their presence count right from the first second with loud cheers. The initial minutes of the play saw both combatants struggling to find rhythmic moves and steadily progressing to adapt to the rainy conditions of Kochi.
The Tuskers impatiently started making early moves with unorganized methods and were forced to slow down later on after constant failures. Simon Grayson’s men stood firm against each and every attack of the hosts with a composed and compact defensive presence on the field.
A foul heated up the gameplay in the 26th minute when Jessel Carneiro was booked for bringing down Daisuke Sakai on the edge of the box. The former Blasters’ skipper was making his debut for the Blues and came up with a frustrated antic after being nutmegged by the Japanese midfielder, ultimately receiving the first yellow card of the new ISL season.
Sakai seemed promising throughout the first half but his failure to establish coordination with the playmaker Adrian Luna was one of the major reasons behind the deadlock on scoresheets.
Bengaluru’s only on-target shot of the first half came in the 35th minute when Naorem Roshan Singh attempted a long-ranging strike from the right flank which was swiftly slashed away by Suresh. The rain stopped for a while after the drinks break in the 30th minute but the goalless saga continued without breakthrough as both teams returned back to the tunnel on an impeccable scoreline of 0-0.
The wallop of weather once again speeded up when the play resumed as the players kept facing difficulties in carrying the fluidity of the game. The goal-scoring drought on a rainy night was finally brought to an end by the Kochi-based outfit six minutes into the second half.
It was the KBFC skipper Adrian Luna whose swinging corner kick in the 52nd minute resulted in erupting loud celebrations at the jam-packed JLN Arena. Blindfolded by Jeakson Singh’s jump, the Dutch holding midfielder Keziah Veendorp couldn’t control his reflection from going inside his own net and drew the unwanted dishonor of scoring the season’s maiden own goal.
It came as no surprise when Simon Grayson decided to use substitutions in the 65th minute as the Englishman went on to make a triple-change. Two foreign knights, Javi Hernandez and debutant Curtis Main were brought to strengthen the offense while Parag Shrivas’ induction aimed to fill the void left by the departure of Veendorp and Jovanovic.
Despite having the lead, the forward duo of the Tuskers kept pressing high and eventually got the sweet fruit of their diligent efforts. After a miscommunication with his fellow teammate, Gurpreet failed to identify the charging threat of Luna and his heavy first touch gave away the ball possession in a dangerous spot. The 31-year-old Uruguayan maestro drove the ball away from Sandhu and dispatched it to an open goal-mouth to score his 11th league goal for the Yellow and Blues.
The second goal not only boosted the confidence in the Blasters camp but also pushed them into a comfort zone for the rest of the game. Frank Dauwen’s tactic of slowing down the pace turned out to be an eventual mistake as the opposition exploited it with a counter-attack and silenced the roaring crowd. Monirul Molla’s reflected cross in the 90th minute found Curtis Main in front of the goal and the English striker made no mistake in capitalizing it.
The young faces of the Blasters’ roster somehow managed to protect their decisive lead in the added time of seven minutes despite making errors from dangerous positions on multiple occasions. The high-voltage encounter finished on a final scoreline of 2-1 in favor of the hosts as the Tuskers stood by their promise of avenging the 2022-23 season exit from the neighborhood rivals.
Bengaluru managed to outscore the Tuskers in ball possession and passing accuracy stats owing to a promising start but couldn’t come up with clinical finishes and ended up losing the tie. Luna was conferred with Hero of the Match honor for stepping up as a captain and striking the winning goal along with an impressive 82% passive accuracy.
The Blues have another tough away challenge coming up next week when they will be touring the city of joy to face the defending champions Mohun Bagan Super Giant on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Kerala Blasters will be heading towards a nine-day halt before turning up for the Jamshedpur fixture at the same venue.