Atletico de Kolkata and Mumbai City FC treated the packed Rabindra Sarobar Stadium to a five-goal thriller in the season's first semifinal, with Kolkata coming on top following a dramatic 3-2 win.
The game was played at frantic pace, with all five goals coming in a manic first half. Kolkata took an early lead, went behind after conceding twice, and fought back to regain the advantage - all in 45 minutes. Well-taken goals and suspect defending aside, the game was also full of ugly, cynical fouls, with Mumbai's marquee player Diego Forlan getting his marching orders in the second half after picking up a second yellow card.
He will now watch the crucial second leg from the sidelines, hoping his team can be more compact at the back, and more clinical in front in order to overturn the one-goal deficit.
Mumbai were playing their first ever playoff match, and the entire team was a bundle of nerves at the start. A failure to get into shape by kick-off left a big hole at the center of their defense, and Helder Postiga capitalised in the first minute by feeding Iain Hume through on goal.
The linesman raised his flag - even though replays suggested Hume was well onside - but Kolkata were immediately buoyed. They scented blood, and attacked in numbers, hoping to earn an advantage before Mumbai settled down.
The hosts were subsequently rewarded for their enterprising start less than 60 seconds later. Mumbai failed to deal with a corner, allowing Borja Fernadez to cut inside from the left and float a seemingly harmless ball into the Mumbai box. Lalrindika Ralte, though, got the faintest flick with his head, which was enough to loop the ball over a backpedaling Amrinder Singh.
Kolkata were a goal up in no time, but just as they had benefited from some lax Mumbai defending, they offered their opponents a way back into the tie by some poor man-to-man marking of their own.
In the 10th minute, Diego Forlan hurled a free-kick into the Kolkata area from nearly 50 yards out. Just like Borja had done a few minutes earlier, Forlan opted for height and flight rather than pace and bend, and much like Lalrindika, Sunil Chhetri won the all-important first header. The ball fell kindly into the path of Leo Costa, and with no Kolkata defender next to him, Costa had all the time and space to slot a low shot past the keeper Dani Mallo.
Forlan, operating just behind Chhetri and Costa, had seen very little of the ball till then, but like he had done time and again in his illustrious career, he would remain a big threat from set-pieces.
Kolkata should have known better, but they conceded one foul too many around the box, and in the 19th minute, Forlan once again made them pay.
Standing over another free-kick from the right - this time a lot closer to goal - Forlan's stance suggested he might give a go for the left-footed in-swinger. It's unclear if that threw the Kolkata defenders off, because when Forlan eventually delivered a right-footed curler, Henrique Sereno was caught on the wrong side of Gerson Viera, who headed home from close range to put Mumbai in front.
Two set-pieces, two vital away goals. For all their early pressure, Kolkata were suddenly chasing the game, but to their credit, they responded well to the challenge, rather than getting rattled and fading away.
With Borja and Jewel Raja pushing higher up in midfield, Kolkata's attacking trio of Postiga, Hume and Sameehg Doutie were not in short supply of the ball. Mumbai sensed the danger, but rather than thwarting Kolkata's front three, the back four withdrew into their shell, inviting wave after wave of attack.
A grateful Kolkata obliged, and in the 39th minute, Lalrindika toyed with a Mumbai defender before clipping a cross from the left byline. Amrinder couldn't quite collect the ball, instead flapping it straight to Doutie on the right. Doutie had a chance to score himself, but unselfishly set up an onrushing Hume at the edge of the box. Hume pulled the trigger and found the net with a clinical, powerful finish.
Now, it was Mumbai who were feeling the pressure, and the visitors may have counted themselves lucky not to be reduced to 10 men when a foul-hungry Sena Ralte escaped several second yellows when already on a booking. Ralte may have stayed on the pitch, but one of his many infringements cost Mumbai a penalty just before half-time.
Lucian Goian failed to successfully shield a long ball from Doutie, who snatched control and made a quick pass to an onrushing Postiga behind him. Postiga's first touch was a delicate little flick past Ralte, which resulted in both players colliding with each other inside the box.
It appeared a 50-50 challenge, but the referee deemed it a foul and pointed straight to the spot. Hume stepped up once again and did not flinch, sending the keeper the wrong way to put Kolkata 3-2 in front.
During their run to the title in 2014, playoff games involving Kolkata produced just one goal across 300 minutes of football; there were five scored on Saturday in just 45.
Mumbai played with more urgency after the break, but Kolkata's defense got its act together, restricting the visitors to minimal chances. Chhetri came closest to leveling, but was unable to keep the ball down following a clever cut-back from the right flank by Forlan. Chhetri, the leading Indian scorer in 2015, is yet to get off the mark in 2016.
At the other end, Kolkata were presented with numerous three-on-three opportunities on the counter, but Hume's radar was surprisingly off in the second period, as he failed to convert inviting crosses from both Prabir Das as well as Doutie.
Mumbai's frustrations boiled over, and in the 74th minute, Forlan lost his head after kicking out late at Raja. Forlan's first touch near the halfway line to bring down a high ball was poor, allowing Raja to run in for the steal. A visibly tired and unhappy Forlan had no other way of stopping Raja, and instead lashed out.
Forlan did not even wait for the referee to brandish the red card. He knew his night was over. Unless Mumbai pick themselves up for the second leg, their campaign may well be, too.