The Indian Super League identified their last two semi-finalists – Mumbai City and NorthEast United – prior to the final round of games.
The league stage also identified its table toppers for end of the season – Bengaluru FC, who finished in that position for two seasons running courtesy a stunning turnaround against FC Goa, despite being a man down.
NorthEast United, perilously close to dropping out of the top four after a fast start to the season, bagged a point against Pune City, which pushed them four clear of Jamshedpur FC. The Steelmen only managed a draw against Chennaiyin when it mattered the most.
Jamshedpur finished round 17 with the lowest number of defeats – three, but came up with a draw, their oft-repeated result of the season. No team has as many stalemates – nine – as Jamshedpur have, and against a weak Chennaiyin, a team with 12 losses to their name this season, Cesar Ferrando would have expected better.
Farukh Choudhary started up front for Jamshedpur, as Carlos Calvo, Sergio Cidoncha and Jerry Mawhmingthanga played behind the Indian international. Through the season, it proved to be the same tale as on the night. Jamshedpur didn’t have enough in attack to trouble the hosts.
Ferrando also stated that the absence of a recognised striker to lead the line proved costly for the team on the night. “We have Sumeet Passi and Tim Cahill, who are injured. We had to try and win the match with the rest of the team. The next match is against Bengaluru at home so I hope that we can win,” the Spaniard said.
None of Jamshedpur’s players have more than three goals to their name, and no striker has scored more than two. As for Chennaiyin, they’re still on course to post the lowest points tally by a team in ISL history and must defeat Goa to avoid that unwanted tag.
Earlier in the week, Bengaluru had a man sent off but a superlative second half-display outwitted Goa and send them crashing to their first defeat in eight games. Goa coach Sergio Lobera will be disappointed with his side’s performance at the Kanteerava, despite the hosts’ being there for the taking.
In the semi-final, the Blues will in all likelihood face NorthEast United, who currently sit in the fourth spot. The Highlanders made the play-offs for the first time in five seasons, and have stuttered on their way there, with two wins in their last nine.
Eelco Schattorie’s team must defeat Kerala Blasters away in their final game and hope Mumbai City do not pick up a point against Pune City at the Balewadi Stadium, in order to finish third. Their superior head-to-head record against the Islanders means that they still stand a chance of avoiding Bengaluru in the semis, even if that is a slim one.
They have troubled Bengaluru in both their matches this season, but came away with a single point, courtesy of some lackadaisical finishing. The 3-0 win, however, could have re-invigorated Bengaluru’s season and Miku’s return to form as the business end of the tournament approaches.
For Goa, they will rue the missed chance of finishing on top of the table and Lobera will hope that this is a blip in their recent resurgence. The team’s run of clean sheets coming to an end against a top four-rival definitely came at a wrong time as Goa hope to make a first appearance in the final since 2015.
In contrast, Mumbai City found form at the right time. Since their 1-0 win over Bengaluru, the Islanders had lost three on the trot and hadn’t scored in that period. Modou Sougou’s hat-trick against ATK would have definitely helped to calm nerves.
Sougou took his personal tally to 12 for the season, only behind FC Goa’s Coro in the Golden Boot race.
But Mumbai City FC’s record against Goa this season, seven goals without reply, will be a cause for concern as they prepare for a potential semi-final.
While Mumbai City and NorthEast found their groove when it mattered, two-time champions ATK saw their semi-final challenge come to a limp end, with just one win in their last seven matches.
Steve Coppell had assembled a squad with foreigners who had previously proved themselves in the league. But the ISL Galacticos failed to make any impression in attack.
ATK scored the joint-lowest number of goals – 16, and Coppell, with an expensive assortment of stars, has developed a penchant for tedious football. The Englishman has managed three ISL clubs and has reached an ISL final, yet has never managed to answer his critics with his chosen style.