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  Sports   Football  18 Dec 2016  ISL Season 3: ATK, Kerala gear up for final frontier

ISL Season 3: ATK, Kerala gear up for final frontier

THE ASIAN AGE. | ARUN GEORGE
Published : Dec 18, 2016, 1:03 am IST
Updated : Dec 18, 2016, 6:27 am IST

Hume is the leading goal-scorer in ISL history, with 23 goals, seven from this season alone.

Atletico de Kolkata striker Iain Hume (centre) at a practice session in Kochi on Saturday.
 Atletico de Kolkata striker Iain Hume (centre) at a practice session in Kochi on Saturday.

Kochi: Mohammed Rafique doesn’t look like he could carry two Indian Super League trophies on his shoulders. His thin legs and frail physique resemble those of an endurance runner more than a footballer.

He also lacks the pace and isn’t quite cunning for someone who likes to roam the final third. Yet he does possess a knack for scoring crucial goals in the biggest of matches.

Rafique guiding a header past a hapless David James in the 90th minute of the 2014 ISL final that helped Atletico de Kolkata edge Kerala Blasters by a solitary goal to grab the inaugural title, is a refined image etched into the minds of Kerala supporters.

It was also the defining factor that prompted the Kerala management to sign up the 24-year-old from Bengal this season.

As Kerala and Kolkata meet again in the final of ISL-3, at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here on Sunday, there are a handful of other players — Mohammed Rafi, Rino Anto, Shilton Paul, Stephen Pearson and Iain Hume — who have played for both sides that come to mind, but hiding somewhere between the big boys, is Rafique, the man with the midas touch.

Incidentally, on the eve of their second coming together in a title clash after a gap of just a season, both coaches refrained from over-emphasising the potential role of individual brilliance that could prove the centerpiece in front of what is being advertised as a sellout crowd in the 55,000-seater stadium.

The closest Steve Coppell and Jose Molina came to describing an individual’s influence was while speaking about Hume. The Canadian, affectionately called Hume Da by Kolkata fans and Humettan by Kerala fans, was instrumental in the progress of the Sachin Tendulkar-owned side to the final the first year and has since been with Sourav Ganguly’s red and whites.

Hume is the leading goal-scorer in ISL history, with 23 goals, seven from this season alone, and he has netted against every other opposition but the Blasters.

“Probably as an ex-Kerala player he decided not to score against us,” said Kerala coach Coppell, with a smile.

“We’ve to try and do our best to keep him quiet,” he added, to which Kolkata coach Molina responded: “I’m sure he’ll score in the final.”

In their seven meetings thus far, Kerala have only won once while Kolkata have four wins to their credit.

The visitors are also the only side to defeat Kerala in Kochi this season, a 1-0 result that came early October through Javi Lara’s deflected strike. The return fixture had ended 1-1 with C.K. Vineeth’s opener being cancelled out by Pearson, in the first half.

Tags: isl season 3, atletico de kolkata, kerala blasters