The 2015 Indian Super League season finalists Chennaiyin FC and FC Goa will renew their intense rivalry when they meet in the second leg of their semi-final of the 2017-’18 campaign at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Chennai, on Tuesday.
The two teams played out a 1-1 draw in the first leg in Goa, which gives Chennaiyin a slender advantage because of the away goal, even though coach John Gregory won’t admit it.
“The away goal is a very minimal advantage,” he said in his pre-match press conference. “It’s not something I will spend too much time thinking about. If we keep a clean sheet, we go through, but if they score then everything changes. There are many possibilities.”
Goa have scored the maximum number of goals this season (43 so far), while Chennaiyin haven’t been so prolific in finding the net, scoring only 25. However, Chennaiyin’s defence has been great this season and Gregory is confident his team can keep a clean sheet, but will prepare for the possibility of a penalty shootout.
“We have played each other a few times and we know who are the danger men [for FC Goa],” he said. “If we keep a clean sheet we go through. That will be our first priority. But we’ll be prepared for whatever comes our way. It can obviously go to a penalty shootout.”
Can Jeje deliver?
Gregory would once again rely on the midfield duo of Dhanpal Ganesh and Bikramjit Singh to keep Goa’s attacking players at bay. Mailson Alves and Henrique Sereno had underlined their importance with another good show and will be expected to maintain their standards in the second leg.
The focus will be on Jeje Lalpekhlua, who would like to get back among the goals after fluffing a few chances in the previous game. Gregory would also expect the experienced Raphael Augusto to make more attacking forays into the opposition half and build the pressure on the rival defence.
Goa will be aware that they have to score as a draw won’t be enough. The visitors will be boosted with the return from suspension of goalkeeper Naveen Kumar, who had kept two clean sheets in three matches before his red card against Jamshedpur FC, and midfielder Hugo Boumous, who limped out of the same match with an injury. Goa head coach Sergio Lobera confirmed both players are available for the crucial second leg semi-final.
“We would play the same way as we play and play for a win,” he said. “Just like we did against Jamshedpur, where we only needed a draw but we went for the win.”
The prolific Ferran Corominas (the leading goal-scorer this season with 18 so far) endured a quiet game in the first leg and the onus would be on him to lead from the front. Lobera has advocated an attacking philosophy for the team, which has worked too. He would look up to Corominas to do some damage upfront and expect the midfield to provide the thrust.
Goa will give themselves a chance of snatching a win in Chennai considering what had happened the last time the two teams played here. Goa had scored three goals in the first 45 minutes before Chennaiyin pulled two back in the second half but could not prevent the visitors from taking all three points.
“We know we are up against a tough team,” said Lobera. “When we played them [here in Chennai], for two halves, they were different. We were leading 3-0 at half time and they changed in the second half, which they won 2-0. We will keep playing the football that we always played because that’s what makes us strongest.”
With inputs from PTI