A fearless performance by a young Indian Arrows side helped them cruise to a 2-0 win over Kerala Blasters FC in their Hero Super Cup 2019 qualifier match at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, on Friday. Arrows captain Amarjit Kiyam struck on the 39th minute to put his team in the lead and then converted a penalty in the second half to seal the result. The loss marks the end of a disappointing season for Kerala, who crashed out of the tournament. The Arrows move on to the Round of 16 of the competition and will next face FC Goa on March 30.
Kerala started the match brightly, with Slavisa Stojanovic testing Arrows goalkeeper Prabhsukhan Singh Gill within the opening three minutes of the contest. The striker stepped inside from the left-hand side and let one fly, drawing out a brilliant save from the youngster. It would be a first of many crucial interventions from the Arrows custodian, who was adjudged the Hero of the Match for his stellar performance.
As the match progressed, the Arrows slowly settled down showing great composure at the back and looked to counter-attack, primarily through the wings. Right-back Boris Singh Thangjam, in particular, was ever-present on both ends of the pitch, keeping the Kerala defence on its toes with his overlapping runs.
However, it was the team from Kochi who carved out the second big opportunity of the match on the 15th minute. Sahal Abdul Samad, who has been Kerala's standout player in the Hero ISL this season, showcased some quick feet to dance past a crowd of defenders to create a shooting opportunity for himself. But Prabhsukhan had his angles well covered.
For Arrows, Boris was at the thick of things throughout and almost created the opening goal of the match. The 19-year-old did brilliantly to get to the touchline and fizzed in a teasing cross towards the six-yard box. With Lalengmawia sliding in to get the telling touch, it took an outstanding interception by a back-tracking Anas Edathodika to clear the danger.
Spurred on by the move, the young Arrows side began dominating the proceedings, driving the Kerala team on the backfoot and adding to Nelo Vingada's woes in the dugout. The consistent pressure would eventually pay off. The move - one of the many the Arrows created through the right - saw Khumanthem Meetei free down the flank after an intricate bit of interplay with Boris. The youngster showed impeccable composure to control the ball and cut it back to find captain Amarjit Kiyam's run from the deep. He fired the ball past Kerala goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh to give the Arrows a well-deserved lead on the 39th minute.
A goal down, Kerala players tried to up the ante in search of a quick equaliser but was snuffed out by a very well-organized collective performance by the Arrows backline. The half time whistle sounded with the Arrows leading 1-0.
After the restart, the Blasters tried to increase the tempo, playing short quick passes to bypass the Arrows’ press. Matej Poplatnik did get a sight at goal early on but his snap shot was too straight to worry Prabhsukhan. With Kerala on the front-foot, the Arrows goalkeeper was kept busy and had to pull off another stunning save to deny Seiminlen Doungel’s effort around the 50-minute mark.
As the match trickled past the hour-mark, the tempo slowed down a tad, with both coaches looking at their bench to freshen things up. Vingada brought on Prasanth K in place of Slavisa Stojanovic, while his counterpart Floyd Pinto responded by bringing on striker Rahim Ali in place of Lalengmawia. The trend of the match saw Kerala boss the possession but their forward forays were indecisive at best.
Arrows, on the other hand, defended resolutely and enjoyed short bursts of threatening possession. One such phase of play helped the Arrows win a string of corners and one of them, eventually, led to their second goal. After a brief pinball session inside the Kerala box, Anas used his hands to prevent the ball from going into the net. The infraction earned the Kerala centre-back a red card and the Arrows, a penalty. Amarjit stepped up to take the spot kick and promptly dispatched the ball past Dheeraj for the second time on the night.
Kerala could have pulled a goal back almost immediately, but Prabhsukhan was at hand to deny Kerala for the umpteenth time. With time running out, Vingada’s side tried desperately to breach the Arrows’ blue wall but being a man down didn’t help their cause. On the 84th minute, the numbers evened out as Jitendra Singh was sent off for denying Sandesh Jhingan a chance to get a free run at goal.
The sending off would, however, have little consequences on the result, which ended 2-0 in the Arrows’ favour.
Meanwhile, Minerva Punjab FC failed to turn up for their Hero Super Cup Qualifier against FC Pune City at the Kalinga Stadium earlier today (March 15, 2019). The match did not kick-off as Minerva Punjab FC did not report till scheduled kick-off time. The matter will be dealt accordingly as per the regulations of the tournament.