Football is a game of fine margins. On Saturday, as FC Goa looked to ensure their passage into the Indian Super League finals for a second straight season, those fine margins made the difference. The Gaurs, who were looking to overturn a mighty 0-3 deficit against Chennaiyin FC, won the second leg 4-2 but the overall task proved to be too big in the end.
The game belonged to Goa and overall, they were head and shoulders above Chennaiyin FC in the edge-of-the-seat thriller. The occasion belonged to them and the strong home support at the Fatorda gave them a huge boost. But when they’ll look back at the game, they will come to regret the missed chances.
The four goals scored on the night would have also seen them through had it not been for the passive display that came during a brief passage of play at the start of the second half.
Goa showed intent early. Boosted by the return of Hugo Boumous and Brandon Fernandes, the home side displayed controlled aggression to have Chennaiyin FC on the ropes in the opening 15 minutes. They dominated possession, showed urgency to win the ball back and were clearly not prepared to take a backward step.
Goa’s constant raids in the box sparked a sense of panic in Chennaiyin FC. With the crowd cheering every run, tackle and shot made by the home team, the home side started growing in confidence.
Ahmed Jahouh effortlessly pulled the strings in midfield, the defenders pushed up high, Jackichand Singh’s pacy runs had the visitors fumbling and Brandon and Boumous’ movement exploited holes in the Chennaiyin FC defense. And then came the goals.
Goian’s early own goal was a reflection of the early jitters. Going by the momentum FC Goa had gathered, it seemed as if 45 minutes alone would be enough to cut short their three-goal deficit.
But once Boumous’ was stretched off with an injury during an opening phase, the intensity of the match came down. Edu Bedia came on but the attacking verve was lacking.
That was when Chennaiyin FC took the opportunity to settle down. They found their feet a little and some confidence came back.
On the other hand, the two-goal cushion saw the intensity that FC Goa had displayed at the start of the game fizzle out.
Chennaiyin FC, meanwhile, showed urgency to keep the ball and their passing became more fluid. They weren’t sharp in attack but FC Goa’s soft underbelly was exposed in the second half.
In a space of seven minutes, they conceded twice and both were down to defensive mistakes - a scenario that occurred in the first leg as well. While goalkeeper Mohammad Nawas was at fault for the opening goal after failing to keep Rafael Crivellaro’s shot out of the danger zone, the equaliser scored from Nerijus Valskis was a piece of terrible marking by the Goan defence that left him unmarked and gave him an open header.
Tasked with scoring three more goals after the score was level, FC Goa interim coach Clifford Miranda threw caution to the wind and made a few bold tweaks to his system, bringing on Saviour Gama and Manvir Singh. Centre-back Mourtada Fall switched to a striker, playing up front alongside Coro and Manvir and the move paid dividends.
The home side resorted to a more direct approach, swinging crosses from left, right and centre, searching for a glimmer of hope. They were a menace in the second half and had a total of 14 shots but for all their efforts – only two could be converted.
The closing stages were reminiscent of the way Miranda’s team started as Chennaiyin FC were pinned in their own half with relentless attacks. However, the visitors withstood the storm as a flurry of chances were wasted.
“We sent Fall upfront because Eli Sabia and [Lucian] Goian are strong centre-backs and we thought he could compete with them and win the ball,” Brandon told Scroll.in after the game. “We wanted to win the second balls and take it from there. We needed to have a Plan B and it worked for us.”
Responding to if Goa were a bit relaxed in the initial phase of the second-half, he said: “We were looking to create chances [in the second half] and Chennai took advantage of that situation. In the first leg, we had our moments to score but we couldn’t. Every team has their spell and it’s about how you take your chances and Chennai took it. We were pushing ourselves to score but we were unlucky.”
The loss may have snapped a ten-match unbeaten run, the best in the club’s history so far, but that won’t matter to Chennaiyin FC. They’re heading into the final and are just one match away from clinching the title, Coyle’s men will look to cap off an enthralling fairytale season with a third silverware.