Mumbai, Dec 20: The Indian Super League (ISL) trophy will go to the traditional and most passionate home of Indian football as Atletico de Kolkata edged past Kerala Blasters 1-0 in the final here today, bringing the curtains down on what proved to be a successful inaugural event.
Mohammad Rafique scored the most-important goal in the dying minutes to help Atletico de Kolkata emerge triumphant at the DY Patil Stadium.
It was an exciting finish to the new league as the two teams battled it out for 90 minutes before Rafique found the target in the fourth minute (94th) of added time.
Just when it looked like the match would enter into extra time, substitute Rafique drove a header home in the last minute of the stoppage time off a corner kick by Jakub Podany.
Rafique, who came on in the 74th minute, slotted it to the left bottom corner leaving Sushanth Matthew, Sandesh Jhingan and Kerala goalkeeper David James shocked.
Even though Rafique starred with his deciding goal, custodian Edel Bete was the hero for Atletico de Kolkata with his sensational saves.
The southern outfit started well as they created a good chance in the fifth minute. Former Newcastle United striker Michael Chopra and Iain Hume played well to enter the box but Josemi cleared the ball with a tackle to deny them an opportunity to go one up.
Six minutes later Ishfaq Ahmed took a good left foot shot but it was blocked by the ATK custodian Edel Bete. The Sourav Ganguly co-owned ATK had a chance in the 25th minute when Arnal Llibert sent the ball through to Mohammed Rafi, but Nirmal Chettri made a last-ditch tackle to deny the forward from entering the box.
Chettri earned a yellow card for his wild tackle but Podany's free-kick from just over 20m sailed over the post. Llibert tried to slide the ball past Kerala Blasters' marquee player-cum manager James in the 35th minute, but the English shot-stopper showed great reflexes and blocked the shot with an acrobatic effort.
'ISL can only get better'
Meanwhile, Ganguly said the response to ISL was "tremendous". "Reception of the tournament by the country has been tremendous. Everyone has stood up and taken note of the ISL," Ganguly said at the half-time interval in the final.
"ISL can only get better. People have thronged the grounds to watch matches with most venues having sell-out crowds. I come from a football city so I know how it feels to see a packed football ground but other parts of the country where football isn't so popular are also embracing ISL. It is a good sign," he added.
Standing alongside him was his former batting partner Tendulkar, with whom he shared many memorable batting partnerships during their playing days.
Asked how it felt to have their teams competing against each other in the final, Ganguly said that sense of rivalry was certainly new to them.
"We have been competing in one way in the cricketing field, but this sense of competition is entirely different," the former Indian captain said.
Sachin Tendulkar, co-owner of Kerala, said the platform of this competition is very different despite the considerable weight of cricket that his and Ganguly's names bring.
"With dada (Ganguly) it has been a sheer joy to be on the same team playing together. We have practically grown up together. But this is a different platform. This is about ISL, this is about football," the legend said.
"Big thank you to everyone for supporting football. Wish it helps develop the sport in the country," he said to a cheering Mumbai crowd.