ATK rode on a hat-trick from striker Balwant Singh to overcome Delhi Dynamos FC 4-3 to reach the semi-finals of the 2019 Hero Cup at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Friday.
They will take on the winner of the NorthEast United FC vs Chennaiyin FC match on Sunday for a spot in the final.
ATK head coach Steve Coppell sprung a surprise in his team selection, opting to hand Everton Santos a start in place of Edu Garcia. Delhi boss Josep Gombau, on the other hand, fielded a strong starting XI featuring the likes of Lallianzuala Chhangte, Nandhakumar Sekar, Gianni Zuiverloon, Marti Crespi, Marcos Tebar and Ulises Davila.
Delhi had the first big chance of the match within four minutes as Narayan Das found Nandhakumar unmarked inside the ATK box. The winger tried a first-time volley but couldn’t quite get the connection he was looking for.
ATK responded with a big opportunity of their own just a couple of minutes later as former Delhi skipper Pritam Kotal raced down the right flank and picked out Manuel Lanzarote with a brilliant cross. The Spaniard managed to beat Delhi custodian Albino Gomes with a flicked header but the effort was inches wide of the goal.
The chances set the trend for the match, with both teams creating ample opportunities to score in what was turning out to be an end-to-end affair. The first goal finally came in the 15th minute through a set-piece. Delhi won a free-kick on the left-hand side of the ATK box and Adria Carmona delivered a pinpoint ball for Mohammed Sajid Dhot to head in at the far post.
The Lions could have doubled the lead seconds later when Daniel Lalhlimpuia held off Andre Bikey and took a crack at goal. The shot was on target and it took a good save from Debjit Majumdar to keep the scoreline unaltered.
Dynamos fight back
ATK toiled hard for a quick equaliser and were rewarded in the 23rd minute. Pronay Halder won the ball in midfield and squared it to Lanzarote. The ATK skipper looked up and threaded in a lovely through ball for Balwant. The striker timed his run well to beat Delhi’s offside trap and slotted the ball past an indecisive Gomes to draw ATK level.
Five minutes later, the Kolkata-based side struck again and took the lead. After playing a precise one-two with Jayesh Rane, Lanzarote found himself with space inside the Delhi box. The Spaniard took a couple of touches to set himself up and side-footed in from a tight angle to make it 2-1 in ATK’s favour. On the 34th minute, Balwant scored his second of the night to extend ATK’s lead.
It seemed that ATK were running away with the match, but Daniel had other ideas. The nippy striker showed good reflexes to get on the end of a deflected Chhangte cross and pulled a goal back for the Lions. The referee brought an end to the action-packed first half with ATK holding a one-goal advantage.
Delhi tried to force the initiative in the second-half and kept the majority of the possession, but it was ATK who dealt the first blow. Six minutes after the restart, Lanzarote set Jayesh free down the right with a lovely long pass. The ATK man carried the ball forward and crossed the ball in for Balwant inside the six-yard box. The 32-year-old slid in to complete his hat-trick.
With their two-goal cushion restored, ATK started exerting their influence on the match and controlled the tempo of the contest. But the match was far from over. The Lions clawed their way back into the game just after the 70-minute mark. Nandhakumar glided inwards from the left flank and took a shot at goal from outside the 18-yard box. It seemed that Debjit had his angles covered but the ball took a wicked deflection off Bikey to bamboozle the ATK custodian.
The goal set up an entertaining finish to the match, with Delhi turning the screws in search of the leveller. The ATK defence aided by Debjit, however, put up a resilient front to secure the victory.