Ten-man Atletico de Kolkata (ATK) showed grit of the highest order to see off Mumbai City FC in a 0-0 draw in the semi-final second leg and sail into the Indian Super League (ISL) final with a 3-2 aggregate victory in the tie here on Tuesday.
ATK led Mumbai 3-2 from the first offing in Kolkata and needed just a draw to edge out their rivals, who despite topping the league table, bowed out of the competition after reaching the knockout stages for the first time.
This is the second time thatJuan Belencoso inaugural champions ATK reached the final of the tournament, a first under coach Jose Molina who took over the reins from Antonio Habas this season. Habas led ATK to their first title in 2014.
ATK played more than 45 minutes without full-back Robert Lalthlamuana who was sent off for a second booking near the end of the first half.
A brawl broke out after the match when ATK’s Juan Beloncoso was tripped by Mumbai’s Leo Costa. Several players got involved in separate altercations when Belencoso reacted in an ugly manner prompting Thiago Cunha from the Mumbai bench to attempt a kung-fu kick at the Spaniard.
Kolkata players and backroom staff members chased Cunha after that, capping off an unprecedented incident which saw Cunha and Beloncoso handed red cards.
ATK will now take on either Kerala Blasters or Delhi Dynamos who play in the second leg of the other semi-final on Wednesday.
In the contest at the Mumbai Football Arena, it took seven minutes for the hosts to get a look in but India captain Sunil Chhetri was guilty of spurning a one-on-one chance with an onrushing goalkeeper Debjit Mazumder keeping the Bengaluru FC forward at bay.
ATK’s first real opportunity came near the half-hour mark when Javi Lara found Abhinash Ruidas with acres of space with the winger’s cross finding Belencoso inside the area. Mumbai goalkeeper Amrinder Singh sneaked in to punch the ball away but not out of danger as a lurking Lalrindika Ralte — who replaced Bidyananda Singh in the 14th minute — took a swipe at goal only for Lalhmangaihsanga Ralte to effect an important block.
The match was characterised by frayed tempers which was not unexpected with so much at stake in the second leg. But things reached boiling point when Lalthlamuana picked up his second yellow card near half-time to trudge down the tunnel and leave the visitors to fend with ten men.
He was guilty of fouling Matias Defederico for the red before picking up his first booking in the 34th minute.
Molina ringed in a tactical change in a bid to bottle up their rivals who needed to score in order to harbour any hopes of turning the tables on ATK. Full-back Keegan Pereira came in place of winger Ruidas.
ATK had a chance to strengthen their hold on the game when Belencoso had a chance of converting a good-looking Lara cross across the face of goal but failed to get anything on it.
Stephen Pearson also skewed a gilt-edged chance over the bar on the volley.
With two minutes remaining to the final whistle, Lucian Goian failed to connect from close first followed by a swinging volley which was saved by Debjit.
Chhetri also had a chance to put the ball behind the net from a header but failed in his attempt as the hosts walked away frustrated.