Perennial favourites Kerala Blasters FC produced a clinical performance in their penultimate match of Indian Super League (ISL) 2021-22 to beat holders 3-1 at the Tilak Maidan Stadium, Vasco on Wednesday. (More Football News)
The win helped Kerala move to fourth place in the ISL table with 33 points from 19 matches (nine wins, six draws and four defeats. Mumbai, who have also played 19 matches, are fifth with 31 points (nine wins, four draws and six defeats).
The top four teams at the end of the league stage of 20 matches each qualify for the semi-finals. As things stand now, Jamshedpur FC lead the ISL table with 37 points from 18 matches (11 wins, four draws and three defeats). Hyderabad FC (35 from 19 - 10 wins, five draws and four defeats) are second, ahead of three-time winners ATK Mohun Bagan (34 points from 18 matches - nine wins, seven draws and two defeats).
Mumbai City play Hyderabad on Saturday, while Kerala Blasters face FC Goa on Sunday in their respective final league matches.
Jamshedpur and Hyderabad have secured semi-final spots but ATK Mohun Bagan can still win the League Winners' Shield and earn a direct AFC Champions League spot.
Kerala Blasters were runners-up in the inaugural season, losing the final to ATK Mohun Bagan (then known as Atletico de Kolkata before their merger with Mohun Bagan). In a repeat of 2014 final, ATK defeated Blasters to take the 2016 crown.
At Tilak Maiden, Alvaro Vazquez (45th P, 60th) scored a brace on either side of halftime after Sahal Abdul Samad (19th) opened the scoring for Kerala. For Mumbai, Diego Mauricio scored a consolation goal from the spot in the 71st minute.
Both teams started cautiously in the opening exchanges before Sahal showed individual brilliance to help Kerala nose ahead.
A botched clearance from Cassio Gabriel saw Sahal rob the ball off him to then twist and turn past the Brazilian and a couple of more Mumbai shirts before drilling a low shot past Mohamad Nawaz who was perhaps blinded by the defenders in front of him as the ball nestled into the net. It was Sahal's fifth goal of the campaign.
Mumbai tried to forge an immediate comeback but it was not to be as Kerala doubled their lead, albeit a penalty after Mourtada Fall brought him down inside the area.
Vazquez was ice-cool from the spot, pausing in his run-up to send Nawaz the wrong way with aplomb.
At halftime, Kerala were leading 2-0.
Vazquez scored at the hour mark to make it 3-0 after Nawaz made a meal of an easy clearance. The Spaniard only needed to slot home into an open goal.
Mumbai pulled one back through a penalty after Mauricio went down inside the box from what looked like a RuivahHormipam push even as Kerala players appealed the decision.