Goa, March 14, 2020: It was not to be a fairytale finish to Chennaiyin FC’s magical turnaround in the Hero Indian Super League season as they were beaten 3-1 by ATK FC in the final held behind closed doors at the Fatorda Stadium here on Saturday. Spaniard Javier Hernandez opened the scoring in the 10th minute as Edu Garcia doubled ATK’s lead in the second half. Nerijus Valskis pulled one back for CFC with a quarter of the game to go but Hernandez added a third for the Kolkata side in stoppage time to make them the league’s most successful team with three ISL crowns.
CFC Head Coach Owen Coyle opted to start with Germanpreet Singh alongside Anirudh Thapa in midfield, with Edwin Vanspaul dropping to the bench. ATK on the other hand were unchanged from their semi-final second-leg triumph over Bengaluru FC.
Chennaiyin got off to the near-perfect start, almost scoring in the opening five minutes. From kick-off, Maltese forward Andre Schembri was in the clear, squaring the ball for Valskis in the middle. An ATK defender got his foot to it albeit sending the ball in Rafael Crivellaro’s path. The Brazilian expertly dinked the ball goalward with keeper Arindam Bhattacharya stranded, only for Pritam Kotal to head the ball off the line.
Two minutes later Valskis clattered the crossbar with a left-footed strike when Schembri found him in the middle after some delightful link-up play in the CFC midfield.
Chennaiyin were wondering how they hadn’t scored yet, when ATK went the other way and grabbed the opener. A long ball for Roy Krishna on the left flank dragged defender Eli Sabia to the byline. The Fijian’s cross into the box was left alone by his strike partner David Williams for the arriving Javier Hernandez, who volleyed it in for his first of the campaign.
CFC didn’t relent though in what was turning into an end-to-end final showdown with chances aplenty for both sides. With a quarter of the game gone, CFC were forced into a change as Germanpreet hobbled off with an ankle injury from an earlier skirmish, with Edwin coming on.
A minute later, some last-ditch defending kept out ATK from doubling their lead. Hernandez’s first shot was cleared off the line by Laldinliana Renthlei after Krishna’s shot was saved by keeper Vishal Kaith.
With the half-hour mark approaching, Valskis hit the target twice but Arindam was equal to it. First, the Lithuanian’s snapshot from Schembri’s cut-back went straight to the custodian. Then, Crivellaro set up CFC’s No. 9, only for Arindam to parry the latter’s shot out for a corner.
Schembri, playing in his final match as a professional footballer having announced his retirement ahead of the final, would’ve seen the headlines when he sent his well-connected header goalward from Crivellaro’s free-kick. But Arindam sprang out of nowhere to save the effort.
Then with five minutes to go for the break, ATK were struck a blow with Krishna forced off after pulling his hamstring. He was replaced by Spaniard Armando Sosa.
ATK got off to the perfect restart with Edu Garcia scoring after the break to make it 2-0. Williams eased Eli Sabia off the ball and went clear, passing to Garcia at the last moment. His shot from the left went in off the post to CFC’s dismay.
Chhangte almost pulled one back minutes later, his left-footed strike going just wide after a one-two with Crivellaro.
On the hour mark, ATK could’ve very easily been a man down when Regin Michael’s high boot caught Edwin in the ribs. The referee though decided to only give a yellow for what was a dangerous foul.
From this point on, CFC camped inside the ATK half with attack after attack. And the goal did come, with Valskis grabbing his 15th goal of the season, clinching him the Golden Boot ahead of Roy Krishna and Bartholomew Ogbeche.
The Lithuanian got on the end of Jerry’s clipped pass, striking it expertly into the top corner on the half-volley to make it 2-1 with 20 minutes to go.
Valskis could’ve made it 2-2 a minute later with a header from Eli’s cross only for Arindam to get down well and make a stunning save.
With fifteen minutes left, Schembri called curtains on his playing career as he was replaced by Romanian Dragos Firtulescu.
Chennaiyin threw everything at ATK but the latter’s backline stood firm, adding a third deep into injury time on the counter-attack. Substitute Pronay Halder intercepted Thapa’s stray pass and sent Hernandez clear. The Spaniard rounded Kaith and passed the ball into the empty net to sink CFC’s hopes for a third ISL triumph, instead handing a third to ATK. The final scoreline reading 3-1, making ATK the champions of ISL 2019-20.