For the first time in six editions of the Indian Super League, the table-toppers had something substantial to celebrate this season. And after forming a distinct identity, entertaining fans all over India with their playing style and setting new domestic records over the course of three seasons, that moment of joy belonged to FC Goa.
The Gaurs on Wednesday scripted history by becoming the first Indian club to gain direct entry for the group stages of the AFC Champions League (as we know the tournament now).
Several Indian clubs including Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have made it to the main stage of the Champions League, previously known as the Asian Club Championship, but no Indian club has made it to the competition after it was revamped again in 2012.
Playing their final league game of the 2019-‘20 ISL season against struggling Jamshedpur FC, even a point was enough for FC Goa to reach promised land. But they were not taking chances as they registered a thumping 5-0 victory to book their ticket to Asia in style.
The job is not yet done with the playoff stages yet to commence and the club chasing their first ISL title. But they have achieved the primary objective – of topping the league table.
There were doubts lingering on whether they could achieve the feat after the club decided to part ways with coach Sergio Lobera earlier this month due to a reported fall-out, with just three leagues games remaining.
The Goan outfit has managed to wriggle past those favourable yet tricky fixtures – scoring a total of 14 goals while shipping just three at the back – helping them finish the league stages with a tally of 39 points from 18 games.
Here is a look at three key reasons on what helped FC Goa become champions of India:
Strong and established core
FC Goa were among the least active teams in the 2019-’20 ISL summer transfer window at the start of the season, making just two signings in Aiban Dohling (Shillong Lajong) and Seiminlen Doungel (Kerala Blasters). With the maximum allotted overseas quota of seven foreigners, they also decided not to retain forward Zaid Krouch.
Bengaluru FC, ATK, Kerala Blasters and Odisha FC were the ones who bolstered their respective squads with eye-catching signings and were considered to be favourites to reach the playoffs. However, what worked in favour of the Gaurs, was a strong core group of players who were accustomed to Lobera’s philosophy and system.
Even after the Spaniard’s departure, the club did not alter their playing style under interim coach Clifford Miranda. From goalkeeper Mohammad Nawaz initiating the attacks, Ahmed Jahouh dropping from midfield to support the defence to the full-backs pushing high up the field and interchanging play with the wingers – it all stayed the same. The starting eleven for them, for every match this campaign, was more or less settled and even with injuries and suspensions, the squad had the depth to make up for it.
Playmaker Edu Bedia alongside Indian internationals Manvir Singh and Doungel were impressive coming off the bench. And with added to the options offered by youngsters Saviour Gama, Princeton Rebello, few could match the quality offered by FC Goa.
The fact that quite a few players were Goans also added to the stability of the side. Goa went local and reaped rewards.
A lethal attacking force
Over the past three seasons under Lobera, FC Goa have not only been shattering records but have arguably been the most entertaining side to watch. The have continued the trend of topping the goalscoring charts every season and few teams have managed to challenge them. This year, they bettered their own record (43) set in 2017-’18 for most goals scored in a single season with 46 goals.
While they were the fastest to reach three-digit figures for goals in the league, the victory against Jamshedpur also saw them become the first team to reach a milestone of 200 goals with an impressive average of almost 1.88 goals per match.
Ferran Corominas has continued to shoulder the goal scoring responsibility and this season also established a fine partnership with midfielder Hugo Boumous, who is enjoying his best season in FC Goa colours with 11 goals and 10 assists so far. The Frenchman has altered his game and has managed to confine Bedia to the bench.
FC Goa have so far had ten different goal scorers over the course of the campaign, the third highest in the league alongside ATK.
Out of the 46 goals they have netted this season, 17 of them have come during the 80th minute or after that. Although FC Goa have been guilty of not shutting shop effectively and letting opponents stage a comeback in the second-half, the ability to find late winners have underlined the character of the team in dire situations.
Their start to the 2019’-20 season wasn’t promising by any means, winning just two of their first five matches but FC Goa have kept churning out the results since then.
They entered the new year as table-toppers and were locked in a three-way battle with ATK and Bengaluru FC for the top spot but faltered after two away defeats in January.
Lobera’s departure could have made matters worse but the Spaniard’s blueprint of playing attractive football has become the identity of this team. And, a place at the top of the table has followed suit deservedly.