Odisha comes from behind to sink Kerala Blasters’ hopes in a 2-1 win

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Isak Vanlalruatfela scored the winning goal for Odisha

In a nerve-wracking Knockout 1 of the 2023-24 Indian Super League season, Odisha defeated Kerala Blasters by a 2-1 margin here at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneshwar. Fedor Cernych struck first for the Tuskers but goals from Diego Mauricio and Isak Vanlalruatfela sealed a win for the Kalinga Warriors.

Odisha head coach Sergio Lobera made as many as 7 changes to his team, as he had fielded a mostly second-string side in the last league stage match against NorthEast United where they lost 0-3. Amrinder Singh, Amay Ranawade, Carlos Delgado, Jerry Lalrinzuala, Puitea, Princeton Rebello, and Isak returned to the team, with Lalthuammawia Ralte, Aniket Jadhav, Thoiba Singh, Vignesh Dakshinamurthy, Lenny Rodrigues, Cy Goddard, and Pranjal Bhumij making way for them respectively.

On the other hand, Kerala Blasters head coach Ivan Vukomanovic made only two changes to the team that won 3-1 against Hyderabad in their last league game. Mohammed Azhar made way for Sandeep Singh while Ishan Pandita was replaced by Cernych.

The game had a sedate start, although Kerala Blasters had a chance in the 9th minute. With his back to the goal, Cernych played a pass for Mohammed Aimen who struck a long range effort which narrowly missed the target.

Odisha’s first chance came just four minutes later when Ahmed Jahouh floated in a corner which saw Mourtada Fall jumping the highest, but the Senegalese centre-back could not keep his header on target either.

The first big chance of the game came in the 21st minute and it once again fell to the Tuskers. From the midfield, Freddy Lallawmawma played a lobbed ball into the box for Ruivah Hormipam, who had beat his marker Isak with his run. Unfortunately for his team, the defender’s header was directed straight at Amrinder.

Odisha thought they had scored in the 27th minute, but the goal was chalked off for offside. Jahouh’s corner this time found Puitea, who went for the spectacular but completely miscued his shot and ended up sending the ball to Jahouh again. The Moroccan midfielder then threaded a pass for Fall who backheeled the ball into the back of the net, but it did not count as Jahouh was in an offside position when he received the ball.

The last big chance of the half came in additional time when Amrinder played out a long ball for Isak. Despite having two players in yellow marking him and Jerry Mawihmingthanga free on the other flank, he chose to go for the goal himself but was not successful.

Unlike the first half, Odisha had the first chance in the second half when Jahouh played out a long ball for Amey Ranawade in the 50th minute. Before he could even get his shot it, Milos Drincic made a superb sliding tackle but the rebound fell for Jerry, whose shot was wonderfully saved by Lara Sharma.

It was then Kerala’s chance to turn the heat on as Aimen nearly scored the opening goal just three minutes later. Receiving a pass from Cernych, the young striker put on the afterburners and was through on goal, but his shot was deflected by Amrnder’s trailing leg onto the post. Two minutes later, Saurav Mandal found Cernych completely unmarked inside the box, but the Lithuanian blasted his shot high.

But the former Dynamo Moscow attacker was not wasteful in the 67th minute as Kerala Blasters finally netted the opening goal. Receiving a pass from Vibin Mohanan, Aimen slotted the ball into Cernych’s path, who then blasted a shot past an outstretched Amrinder to find the back of the net.

Odisha threw the kitchen sink at the visitors in the last 20 minutes and came close to scoring in the 72nd minute when Roy Krishna tried his luck from a distance. The Fiji international kept his shot on target, but Lara pulled off another great save for the Tuskers.

But the equalizer finally came in the 87th minute as Lobera’s substitutions paid off. Thoiba played a delightful long ball from his own half into the path of Krishna inside the box, who then found Mauricio. The Brazilian striker was unmarked and had the simplest of tasks to push the ball into an empty net.

Diego Mauricio brought Odisha back into the game

The last chance of normal time came in the 93rd minute when Jahouh made a rare mistake and gave the ball away to Hormipam outside the box. The defender struck a long ranger which was not a million miles away, but the scoreline remained 1-1.

In the 98th minute, Odisha hammered the last blow to Kerala Blasters’ hopes as they nearly replicated the sequence of the first goal to score a second. This time around, Jahouh played out a long ball which found Krishna and the former Wellington Phoenix striker placed it into the path of Isak, who blasted his shot past a helpless Karanjit Singh, who had come on as the injury substitute of Lara, to give his team the lead.

Kerala Blasters had their chances of getting back in the game, especially in the 104th minute when Hormipam delivered a precise cross for Rahul KP. The attacker also kept his header on target, but with a diving save, Amrinder proved why experience is considered so valuable in football. Just a minute later, another cross from Hormipam found Marko Leskovic unmarked, but the defender’s header was wayward.

The second half of extra-time produced two chances, both of which fell to Daisuke Sakai. In the 106th minute, Rahul dinked the ball into the box for the Japanese winger, whose shot was saved by Amrinder. Six minutes later, the former Japan U20 played struck a shot again, but there was no beating Amrinder.

With this win, Odisha has qualified for the semi-final, where they will lock horns with the League Winners’ Shield-winning team Mohun Bagan Super Giant. The first leg will be played in Bhubaneshwar on Tuesday before the second leg gets played in Kolkata next Sunday.