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ISL: Laxmikant 'phoenix' Kattimani redeems himself from his ghastly past

07:31 GMT+3 18/03/2022
Kattimani finally comes of age after heroics against ATK Mohun Bagan...

0.28 seconds. That's all Laxmikant Kattimani had, to deny Roy Krishna, one of the most accomplished strikers in the ISL (Indian Super League), from scoring ATK Mohun Bagan's opener in the semifinal on Wednesday evening. Prabir Das had swung in a delightful cross for the Fijian and the latter made no mistake to poke the ball towards goal from point blank range. Nine out of 10 times, the ball would have rippled the net. And if someone had prophesied a couple of seasons back that the one save would be made by Kattimani, it might have been treated as a joke.

In FC Goa's season opener in 2016, he simply could not clear his feet and passed the ball to NorthEast United's Emiliano Alfaro who punished him for his mistake. In 2017, against Mumbai City FC he failed to clear a simple back pass from Chinglensana Singh and this time, Everton Santos made him pay. In that season, he made three blatant errors that led to goals. In fact, in 2019-20, he conceded a whopping 13 goals in just six matches and had to play second fiddle to Kamaljit Singh.

Yet, when Manolo Marquez took charge in the previous season he chose to keep faith in Kattimani. Under Spanish goalkeeping coach Marc Gamon, he started to work on his decision-making and reflexes. The result was there for everyone to see. He kept six clean sheets, one more than the previous five seasons combined, and conceded 0.86 goals/game, a steep decline from 2.17 in the previous campaign.

Consistency was never his forte. Lack of concentration and confidence would often lead to silly errors. But in this season, Kattimani has reinvented himself to build on the performance of the 2020-21 edition. In fact, he is the keeper who has the most number of saves (58) in this ISL and is likely to finish on top of the list as Prabhsukhan Gill is lagging far behind with 42.

There is one final hurdle left to conquer. And Kattimani has scores to settle in a final. The last time when he was under the sticks in a title decider he had a nightmarish outing. Stiven Mendoza's injury-time winner might be still fresh in memory as he was nutmegged during that goal. He was also at fault for the other two goals which paved the way for Chennaiyin to snatch the title from Goa at the Fatorda Stadium in 2015.

This time a more matured Kattimani will be manning the last line of defence. After long years, he has got an opportunity to redeem himself in full measure. On the field, the fight will be against Kerala Blasters, but inside the deep recesses of his mind, he has a few ghosts of the past to exorcise as well.