The league’s two best defences, Hyderabad FC and ATK Mohun Bagan, cancelled each other out in a 0-0 draw in the first leg of their Indian Super League semi-final at the G.M.C. Balayogi Athletic Stadium on Thursday.
The hosts were dominant in the first half but were tested defensively by the Mariners in the second. In the end, neither side could find a goal to nick the advantage ahead of the second leg in Kolkata on Monday.
Hyderabad FC launched a series of attacks around the ten-minute-mark and Joel Chianese was the first to try his luck from a tight angle. Vishal Kaith was alert at the near post to deny the attacker. Moments later, Nikhil Poojary cut inside from the right flank and skipped past three ATKMB players before rolling it into the path of Borja Herrera, whose shot was blocked by Pritam Kotal.
The third attack was the most promising one, and it came in the 11th minute. From the left, Halicharan Narzary played an inch-perfect cross into the box to Chianese, whose strong header towards the bottom-left corner was palmed behind by Kaith at full stretch.
Three minutes after the half-hour mark, ATKMB registered their first shot on target through Puitea’s first-time effort from the edge of the box which was collected easily by Gurmeet Singh.
Five minutes later, the Mariners had what would be the best chance of the game. Dimitri Petratos whipped a free kick towards the far post, where Colaco nodded the ball across the face of goal. With an open goal at his mercy, Kotal came flying in but could only rattle the crossbar under pressure from Herrera.
In the 56th minute, Mohammad Yasir came close to scoring the opener but saw his effort come off the foot of the post. Seconds past the hour-mark, the Mariners caught the Hyderabad FC defence on the wrong foot as Manvir galloped down the right flank and opted to shoot instead of looking for Petratos and Boumous in the box, only for his attempt to be saved by Gurmeet at the near post.
Both sides introduced fresh legs in the final quarter of the game as fatigue started to creep in and dropped the tempo of the game. Their respective defences were still at the top of their games, and the only chance in that period was an ambitious volley from Petratos from about 40 yards out. That happened to be the last play of the first leg.
Both sides still have an equal chance of advancing to the ISL final as they head into the second leg on equal footing. They will lock horns again at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan on Monday, March 13, where Hyderabad FC had lost the second leg last season but gone through on aggregate.