FC Goa would look for redemption after their heart-breaking runners-up finish in the Indian Super League when they face Chennaiyin FC in the summit clash of the Super Cup football tournament on Saturday.
The Goa-based side had to endure the heartbreak of losing the Indian Super League title, going down to Bengaluru FC via an extra time goal in the final match. Winning the Super Cup will help Sergio Lobera’s side soften the blow and claim silverware for the first time in the club’s history.
For Chennaiyin – the ISL 2017-’18 champions – the 2018-’19 campaign turned out to be a disastrous one. John Gregory’s men ended the ISL season at the bottom of the table. Winning the Super Cup knockout tournament will be a big opportunity for Chennaiyin to give the disappointed fans something to cheer about after what has been a nightmarish season.
The two teams have plenty of history between them, most notably, facing off in the ISL 2015 final – a dramatic and ill-tempered match which Chennaiyin eventually won 3-2 courtesy of two late goals.
FC Goa have been in fine form in the Super Cup, putting in some stunning performances, which saw them score 10 goals in three matches. They faced I-League champions Chennai City FC in the semi-final without a few key players but the Gaurs faced little trouble in defeating them.
With Edu back for the final, FC Goa will be even stronger heading into the decider on Saturday. The Goa outfit has been in fine form offensively, with the likes of Ferran Corominas, Brandon Fernandes and Edu all among the goals.
Young left-back Saviour Gama has been turning heads with his performances in the tournament and will look to elevate his fast-growing reputation with another solid display on Saturday.
There were questions raised over Mourtada Fall and Carlos Pena after an unconvincing display in the final 20 minutes of their quarter-final tie against Jamshedpur, but the Gaurs’ centre back pairing was rock solid against Chennai City, keeping the I-League champions’ famed attacking line in check throughout the match.
The Gaurs also did a double over Chennaiyin in the ISL this season, beating them 3-1 in Chennai and then 1-0 at home. “They [Chennaiyin] completely deserve to be in the final. They have been superior to the other teams. They have a very bad experience from the ISL season. We are facing a tough team who are similar to the old Chennaiyin team,” Lobera said.
“We beat the I-League champions. But every game will be completely different. Chennai City are a more offensive team. They don’t mind going out there and playing one on one game. Chennaiyin are a more measured team. They are more compact and more aggressive.”
FC Goa would do well not to rest on their laurels from the previous results against Chennaiyin. Despite struggling terribly during the ISL campaign, Gregory’s side has looked like a side transformed after that.
Chennaiyin have been unbeaten in their last six fixtures in the AFC Cup and Super Cup, conceding just one goal in the process. The Chennaiyin defence, marshalled by Mailson Alves and Eli Sabia, has been rock solid of late and the return of Dhanpal Ganesh in midfield has only helped.
Ganesh, who missed the entire ISL season with an injury, is possibly one of the best holding midfielders in India and was integral to Chennaiyin’s ISL triumph in the 2017-18 season.
The 27-year-old is still finding his feet after a lengthy layoff, but his physicality and tenacity in the midfield has given Chennaiyin the spark they lacked so dearly during the ISL.
Besides providing ample cover for the backline, Ganesh’s reassuring presence allows Chennaiyin’s more creative midfielders – Raphael Augusto and Anirudh Thapa – to play with more freedom on the opposition half.
Thapa, in particular, has benefitted immensely from it and has established himself as the team’s talisman. The youngster’s technical abilities have shone through in the last few matches and the 21-year-old has been central to everything good Chennaiyin have managed going forward.
Two back-to-back Player of the Match awards in the quarter-final and the semi-final of the Super Cup bears testimony to the impact the youngster’s resurgence has had on the team.
“We start as the underdogs in the final. I believe FC Goa are the favourites. We are pleased to be in the final. We have worked incredibly hard to reach here. We’ve beaten two teams that made the semi-finals of this season’s ISL but this will be a big test for us. Now that we’re in the final, there is only one thought – to win it,” Gregory said.
“We are well aware of Goa’s qualities. Even without Edu Bedia, they outclassed Chennai City FC. We know we are in for a really tough game. For me, they have been outstanding and great to watch this season,” he said.
Chennaiyin will be without Australian Christopher Herd on Saturday, who is suspended for the final due to an accumulation of bookings.