After starting with a simmer in the form of two goalless draws, the Indian Super League (ISL) has finally burst into life as the first set of matches comes to a close. A five-goal fest was served up on Wednesday at the Balewadi stadium in Pune as Delhi Dynamos opened their campaign with a 3-2 win over the hosts.
The scorecard might bear the look of a thrilling evenly contested tussle but for much of the 90 minutes at Pune, it was a Dynamos master-class on display with the hosts a clear second best.
Miguel Angel Portugal’s stamp was clear to see in his side’s assured display on the ball as fluidity oozed in his 4-4-1-1 system with Matias Mirabaje deployed just behind Kalu Uche in a free role.
The Uruguayan was the heartbeat of much of Delhi’s attacking thrust throughout the match but it was the dazzling display of young Lallianzuala Chhangte on the left flank that left the biggest impression of the night.
Having gone off the radar in the last couple of years after bursting onto the scenes as a teenager in the 2015 SAFF Cup in Nepal, the 20-year-old showed why is held in such high regard in the first place.
The Mizoram man was unrelenting on the left flank throughout the ninety minutes and capped off his fine performance with a goal and an assist. He showed breathtaking pace before applying a precise finish to snatch his goal but it was his peach of a cross which set up the opener for Paulinho Diaz which defined Chhangte’s game on Wednesday.
The left flank would be the biggest positive for Dynamos’ Spanish coach with Sena Ralte and Chhangte combining well as Pune right-back Sarthak Golui was given the run-around constantly throughout the game.
In midfield, another 20-year-old Indian shone bright with Vinit Rai putting on an industrious and composed shift along with the Brazilian Paulinho as Delhi emerged clear winners in the battle at the centre of the pitch. Jonathan Lucca and Rohit Kumar paled in comparison to their counterparts who were full of running and dynamism.
With Venezuelan veteran Gabriel Cichero being a calming and assured figure at the heart of the defence, the capital-based outfit looked like a well-drilled and cohesive unit through most of the night. While continually playing the ball along the ground, Portugal’s men pressed high up the pitch to put Pune’s defence and midfield under constant pressure.
It was in fact this pressing which brought about the second goal for Delhi after Gurtej Singh missed a clearance under pressure with Chhangte’s burst of pace doing the rest. Ranko Popovic’s men failed to find the cohesiveness displayed by the visitors as star-signing Marcelinho was largely kept quiet by his former employers.
The home side had suffered a blow before a ball had even been kicked off as Jewel Raja had to come off for Baljit Sahni after suffering an injury in the warm-up.
Emiliano Alfaro hustled throughout the 90 minutes and was rewarded with a goal for his efforts but Pune’s attack struggled to find the cutting edge and end product. With Marcelinho failing to burst into life until injury time, chances were few and far in between for the hosts.
The defence did not come out with a positive report card either with Gurtej, Sarthak and Lalchhuanmawia Fanai being guilty of numerous errors. Marcos Tebar put in a proper shift at the base of the midfield and grabbed a goal towards the end but lacked support from his midfield partners.
Despite the two late goals from Pune, Portugal will take a lot of positives from the start as his young side bereft of star names has shown they have what it takes to go one step further than their semi-final loss in the last edition.
For his Serbian counterpart, he will have to get his star-names clicking together soon along with fixing a porous defence to have any hopes of making a mark this ISL.