Rafique, who replaced Mohammad Rafi in the 74th minute of the mega clash at the packed D.Y. Patil stadium, followed up a corner from Czech defender Jakub Podany to fire the header in the 94th minute, a minute before the second half injury time was slated to end to send Atletico De Kolkata fans into raptures here as also in Kolkata and other parts of the world.
It sealed the Blasters’ fate and marked the climax of a well-contested and pacy final, billed as a clash between cricketing heroes Sachin Tendulkar – co-owner of the Kerala side – and Atletico De Kolkata part-owner Sourav Ganguly.
Rafique – later adjudged hero of the match – ran into the box, outjumped rival defender Nirmal Chetri and put the ball into the net past Blasters’ veteran custodian cum coach David James to decide the fate of the lively game which till then seemed poised to roll into the extra time.
It was a revenge of sorts for Atletico De Kolkata, which had lost 1-2 to the Blasters in Kochi in the return leg of the round robin stage. The two sides had finished 1-1 in the first leg.
Atletico took the field benching their skipper and marqee player Luis Garcia – who had picked up a hamstring niggle in the second leg semi final opposite FC Goa – and the team management would do well to fete their Armenian custodian Edel Bete, who brought off a number of splendid saves.
Spanish forward Arnal Llibert and Rafi played upfront from the start, while the defence was manned by makeshift stopper Podany, back-from-injury Kingshuk Debnath Arnab Mondal and Spaniard Josemi.
The Blasters were without their star defender Frenchman Cedric Hengbert, and played talismanic English striker Michael Chopra and Canadian Iain Hume as forwards, while James returned to his rear guard duties after sitting out the second semi-final.
With both teams having a go at each other from the start, a lot of chances were for the taking.
The best opportunity of the first half came to the Blasters, when Iain Hume’s right footed freekick was thwarted by a diving Bete in the 40th minute.
At the other end of the ground, a 26th minute freekick from Podany sailed over the cross bar. The Blasters had a close shave nine minutes later, when Arnal Llibert’s close range shot was fisted out of harm’s way by James.
After the breather, both the teams quickly settled down and while Atletico De Kolkata created some early chances, Kerala attacked with Scottish medio Stephen Pearson, whose first attempt was collected by Bete and the second finished off target.
Chopra looked to open the scoring by unleashing a left footed volley but Bete was equal to the task fisting the ball away from his near post.
Six minutes before the hour, Hume was again through, before a diving Mondal cleared the ball away from the foreigner’s foot.
At the 64 minute mark, Llibert once found himself at the end of a pass but his fierce shot fizzed wide of the goal.
Seven minutes from close, Chopra swivelled past the Atletico defence to strike a fierce right footer from about eight yards, but a diving Bete brought off an unbelievable save as he parried away the ball in what could be easily be counted as one of the best goakeeping acts of the tourney.