At the end of an enthralling night on Sunday, Chennaiyin FC's coronation as the new champions of the Indian Super League was witnessed by a near-empty Fatorda Stadium and a distinct lack of representatives from the opposition camp. Incensed by the behaviour of Chennai players and some of the referee's decisions, FC Goa players and officials ‒and even fans ‒ chose to ignore their post-match obligations.

For organisers and stakeholders present at the ground, it made for a rather embarrassing finish to a season of ISL in which unsavoury endings had become a recurring theme. Even the two semi-finals before the grand finale had ended on an unpleasant note. On this occasion, though, according to a Goal report, Chennai's marquee player Elano got into a scuffle with FC Goa co-owner Dattaraj Salgaocar and was arrested by the Goa police.

Ultimately, all that was left in Goa following a remarkably action-packed final, which ended 3-2 in favour of Chennai, was a trail of destruction, plenty of sour grapes and some jubilant Machans ‒ scenes that would have fit perfectly into the plans of the winning manager, Marco Materazzi.

Well aware of FC Goa's attacking potential as a unit, Materazzi's men set out to unsettle the home team by engaging them in a physical battle ‒ even if it often pushed the limits of legality. It wasn't a surprising move. In fact, it had been their winning formula against Goa. Chennai had adopted similar methods to beat them twice before at the same venue, the last of which was a 4-0 romp.

Trail of destruction

Less than five minutes in, centre-back Mailson Alves clattered Goa forward Dudu Omagbemi from behind. A clash of heads saw Dudu leave the match on a stretcher, forcing manager Zico into making an early substitution. Jeje too left a soft elbow to the midriff of Lucio as Goa's marquee defender jumped to head the ball. Right-back Mehrajuddin Wadoo went in high and late on winger Mandar Rao Desai. Left-back Dhanachandra Singh hacked down Bikramjit Singh as the midfielder tricked past him. Wadoo, on a yellow card, then treaded a thin line by leading with his arm into the back of Joffre Matheu's head.

By half time, Materazzi's men had conceded ten fouls (which rose to 18 by the end of play). They had also succeeded in getting under the skin of the Goan players. John Stiven Mendoza and Bruno Pelissari were often seen tumbling around at the slightest hint of contact. Opposition centre-back Gregory Arnolin, who could easily pick a fight in an empty room, was decidedly unimpressed and retaliated on several occasions. So too did home goalkeeper Laximant Kattimani, whose personal battle with Mendoza was the highlight of the night ‒ and perhaps the cause of his costly errors.

Before the start of the second half, Zico was forced into his second substitution. In a major blow to Goa's chances, midfielder Leonardo Moura went off with a knock on his knee. Moura had been the team's best player with eight assists and two goals. He had been absent from only one match all season ‒ suspended for a dead rubber in Delhi ‒ and Goa simply were not used to playing without him.

Chennai had succeeding in neutralising the home side's threat and had managed to frustrate the home crowd. The visitors had also carved out the half's better chances via a fearsome front three of Jeje, Mendoza and Pelissari. With Elano still to come off the bench, Materazzi's team had the advantage going into the second half.

The equilibrium, however, was not disturbed until Pranoy Halder produced a needless and rash tackle on Mendoza inside the box. There was little imminent danger to Goa’s goal but a night-long accumulation of ill-feeling towards Mendoza had resulted in a moment of madness. Pelissari saw his initial attempt saved by Kattimani but the rebound fell kindly to the Brazilian.

Four minutes later, substitute Thongkhosiem Haokip, who has developed into a sound goal poacher under the guidance of Zico, equalised for Goa from close range. Soon after, Mendoza was fouled again in the box; this time by Kattimani. But the Goa goalkeeper redeemed himself by denying the Colombian from the spot and celebrating wildly in front of him.

Joy turns to despair

With five minutes left on the clock, Joffre slipped a free kick past Chennai goalkeeper Apoula Edel Bete to send a capacity Fatorda crowd into a frenzy. However, in the blink of an eye, joy turned to despair. Kattimani's 90th-minute howler ‒ he punched a harmless cross into his own net ‒ allowed Chennai to draw level before Mendoza had the last laugh by scoring a stoppage-time winner. With his 13th goal of a fabulous season, the Colombian had clinched the title in a dramatic finish.

Football purists may not approve of some of Materazzi's methods (Chennaiyin FC finished bottom of the official Fair Play league) but credit must go to him and his team. Materazzi knows what it takes to win a big match and he had passed on the expertise to his players. Chennai had been the league's most flexible team; one that could turn on the style one day and yet be downright dirty on another.

Rooted to the bottom of the league only three weeks ago, it is their never-say-die attitude and adaptability that has propelled them to the status of a worthy ISL champion. Even if all of Goa may beg to differ.

Akarsh Sharma is a Delhi-based writer who occasionally tweets here.