When FC Goa made it to the Indian Super League semi-finals in their first season under Sergio Lobera, it was Chennaiyin who denied them an opportunity to challenge for the crown.
Fast forward to more than a year later, the Gaurs were now within touching distance of a trophy after making the finals of the Super Cup, faced the same opponents. And this time around, Lobera’s men emerged victorious in the final on Sunday, to add a trophy to their cabinet, finally.
Although Chennaiyin coach John Gregory billed Goa as the favourites for the title, Lobera was well aware of what was in front of him, calling them the Chennaiyin of the old — given the way they bounced back in the tournament after a dismal ISL season.
To Lobera’s horror, the Chennaiyin of the old were back, right after 52 minutes on the clock.
Ferran Corominas had put Goa ahead in the 50th minute but within three minutes Gregory Nelson found the equaliser.
The tension seemed palpable in the Goa camp. And why not, given Chennaiyin’s strong penchant of staging the unlikeliest of comebacks on the big occasion.
They had done it in the ISL 2015 finals against Goa despite trailing a goal down only to win it in the dying stages. Bengaluru were also given the same treatment in the ISL 2017-18 finals.
To their own dismay, Chennaiyin had thrown the kitchen sink at Goa in the first half but were unable to convert their chances. Goa started brightly but after a few minutes it was Gregory’s men who were firing on all cylinders, despite seeing less of the ball.
They registered five shots and already had six corners but could not beat Mohammad Nawaz. They won most of the individual battles but failed to maintain the same intensity after the break and throughout the 90 minutes.
“My team gave everything. We are disappointed that we didn’t manage to win the game. I thought the first half, we played well and had good opportunities to score. But we didn’t take them. It is our fourth game in 10 days. I think it was pretty evident in the last 15 minutes or so that we had some really tired bodies on the field,” Gregory rued after the match.
Bedia asserts control
Goa’s starting trouble could be attributed to Edu Bedia, who returned to the starting line-up after serving a suspension, was shoehorned into Ahmed Jahouh’s role for the evening. And Goa weren’t evidently smooth on the transitions.
The link between the attack and defence went missing and that was partly the reason why Goa failed to score before the break, the first time it had happened in the competition.
But it all changed in the second half, as Bedia surged ahead in a more free role with Hugo Boumous dropping deep to carry the ball when needed. The writing was on the wall after the Spaniard rattled the crossbar in the 50th minute.
With Coro dropping deep, it became easier for the men in orange to find the gaps as Chennaiyin were pinned to their own half. And it was an exquisite through ball from Coro, releasing Brandon Fernandes inside the box, that sealed the winner and the club’s first trophy — one that has been a long time coming.
“Behind this day is lots of hard work from all at the club and our families. I am feeling like I am about to cry. Playing with quality players like Edu [Bedia] makes my job easier. But at the end of the day as coach said, it is the team as a whole whose performance needs to be lauded,” Coro explained after being adjudged the player of the tournament.
Goa’s greatest strength lies in the depth of their squad and despite missing the presence of the influential Jahouh, they still displayed that they have enough time quality to produce the goods.
With Lobera going on to claim that this trophy was long due given the way they had played over the years, it’s time for Goa to build on from here and further strengthen the squad.
And if that happens, the elusive dream of winning an ISL trophy may not be far away.