The first leg of the second Indian Super League semi-final ended in a draw as well. But in a stark contrast to the Bengaluru FC vs FC Pune City stalemate, FC Goa and Chennaiyin served up an exhilarating contest.
The 1-1 result – the first-ever draw between these two teams in four seasons – does not tell the full story. Saturday’s match was a tale of missed chances and small margins, hard pressing and counter-punching, all-out offence and resilience, but in the end it was the grit of Chennaiyin FC that gave them a slender edge over Goa’s attacking flair. John Gregory’s team got the crucial away goal, equalising within six minutes of conceding a goal, to go into the second leg with an advantage.
For Goa, it was once again a case of superior possession, better passing and bigger chances being let down by defensive deficiency and the over reliance on the Spanish duo of Ferran Corominas and Manuel Lanzarote to finish.
From the kick-off, it was Goa who dominated the ball at their home stadium in an entertaining first half. For first 20 minutes or so, it was all about Sergio Lobera’s plan of passing play, before Chennaiyin showed up with their own brand of counter attack.
The all-round Chennai unit has been effective at the back, keeping seven clean sheets even as 11 different players have scored for them this season. This versatility showed as they kept putting the pressure on the hosts, cramping up their style and creating chances.
At half-time, Goa had double the passes and more touches that Chennaiyin, but the visitors had a much better interception count of 9 to 1.
Both teams had several chances to get on the scoreboard and had three clear shots each, but while both goalkeepers were constantly kept on their toes, there were no inroads. Goa’s Mandar Rao Dessai especially stood out, for both his creative play and his inability to give the finishing touch. For the visitors, forward Jeje Lalpekhlua’s lacklustre showing was the big drawback.
But after a goal-less first half, two quick goals in the second half upped the tempo of the match.
2 goals in 7 minutes
The second half started with a bang with three quick strikes shared between the teams. There was a lot more intensity from the outset and one got the feeling that after all the misses in the first, something was going to give.
It was the Coro-Lanza combination that finally broke the deadlock to score the first goal. The Spanish duo, who had scored 30 of the team’s 42 goals before this match, were not gelling as well as they have in the last few games, which affected Goa’s attack.
But in the 64th, Lanzarote found himself at the right place at the right time to break the deadlock. Coro had worked his way through packed Chennaiyin defence to shoot at goal but the ball bounced off the keeper’s hand and went straight to Lanza who had no problem slotting it in.
Staring at a deficit, Gregory’s team responded with some brilliant counter-attack. Chennaiyin had as many as three chances to equalise in the next few minutes and they did so in the 71st. Player of the match Gregory Nelson cleared up the Goa defence to pass to substitute Anirudh Thapa who hit home through Laxmikant Kattimani’s legs.
This was the only big error from Kattimani, who replaced the suspended Naveen Kumar. Kattimani is the only keeper to not keep a clean sheet (minimum 5 matches played) this ISL and was brought in only as a last resort after being sidelined for a large part of the season. But credit where it is due, he put in a creditable performance that drew praise from even the opponents.
“We had clear one-on-one opportunities and to be fair to Kattimani, he made some very good saves and his team should thank him very much for the saves that he made. He certainly kept the tie alive right up till we managed to get a goal,” Chennaiyin FC head coach Gregory said.
But he was left to rue the many missed chances. “When I look at the opportunities that we had, we could have gone home with a 3-0 advantage,” he said. While 3-0 may be stretching it, Chennai did have more shots at the target, as well as more bookings as they went all-out in the dying minutes for a winner.
For the Goa coach, his was a failure to mount cohesive strikes against a solid defence despite playing good football. “We had possession but it was very far away from the opponent’s goal. We didn’t have enough numbers when we were close to the goal. So, what this result shows is that the team was a little bit divided and physically it cost us a little bit as well,’’ he said after the match.
Despite Chennaiyin’s advantage, the tie is set for an exciting second leg on Tuesday in Chennai. Lobera has every reason to believe that his prolific team will get away goals as well. But against the spunk of Gregory’s men much will depend on the backline and goalkeeper as well. Will Naveen be back, is the big question for Goa. But for Gregory, who has tested 24 out of his registered 25 players this season, it will be a matter of going for the kill.