Football

Koke rescues NorthEast with late equaliser

Elano (left) gets into a tussle with NEUFC's Aibor Khongjee during the ISL match on Saturday. Photo: M. Vedhan

Elano (left) gets into a tussle with NEUFC's Aibor Khongjee during the ISL match on Saturday. Photo: M. Vedhan  

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It was Chennaiyin FC’s toughest test so far, facing a fast, youthful and high-pressing side in NorthEast United FC. In the end, not much separated the two, with the all-too-well-known individual brilliance of Elano and the relentless pressure applied by the away team ensuring a 2-2 draw on Saturday.

On the eve of the match, it was expected to be a battle between contrasting styles and on matchday, it played out more or less the same way. There was much improvement from Chennai in terms of build-up play, the first sign of which appeared around the quarter-hour mark with Elano, John Stiven Mendoza and Harmanjot Khabra stitching together a delightful passing move on the right flank.  

It also helped that Materazzi took a more advanced role and constantly drifted forward. This played a part in the opening goal. It was surprising that the towering Italian wasn’t closed down before he passed leftwards to Denson Devadas, who curled in a neat cross.

Elano beat Capdevila at the near-post with a perfectly timed jump to head the ball in for his seventh goal in six matches.

Ascendency

However, the first half ended with NEUFC on the ascendency. The side pushed forward relentlessly. While James Keene started as a forward, Koke, who started just behind him, and defensive midfielder Felipe de Castro often switched positions. The duo was outstanding throughout the match, tracking down every ball and providing the attacking thrust whenever needed.

On the other hand, the NEUFC wide defenders often played on the overlap. One such run by the right-back Aibor Khongjee resulted in the equaliser on 38 minutes, when he crossed for James Keene to unselfishly head it towards Seimeinlen Doungel.

It was a defensive mix-up with none of the Chennai defenders trying to dispossess him. Len finished it with a clean left-footed strike.

In the second half, Chennai’s attacks were almost always nipped in the bud.

Its players were hurried into making passes in the centre of the pitch and they lost possession easily. However, NEUFC didn’t do much after having won the ball. 

With barely 10 minutes left, he danced past two defenders looking for an outstretched leg. But like much of the match, the NEUFC players refrained from fouling deep inside their half. But Elano shot through a defender’s leg to make it 2-1. 

A tackle from behind in the 83rd minute by Elano on Castro near the halfway line earned him a yellow.

From the resulting free-kick, which was taken after a protracted tussle between players, Khongjee crossed.

In another defensive mix-up, Gouramangi Singh and Bernard Mendy both went for the same ball and lost it.

A superb volley from Koke into the far right corner salvaged a point for NEUFC.

With the result Chennai remains second with 11 points, but has played a game less than table-topper Atletico de Kolkata (12). NEUFC (9) is up to fourth on goal difference.

The result:

Chennaiyin FC 2 (Elano 25, 78) drew with NorthEast United FC 2 (Len 38, Koke 85).

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2020 5:35:35 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/football/indian-super-league-koke-rescues-northeast-with-late-equaliser/article6578674.ece

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