The Indian Super League semi-final between Mumbai City FC and FC Goa was firmly in the balance. With over a hundred minutes of football played, there was precious little to choose between the two teams that had tactically, physically, and technically cancelled each other out.

FC Goa’s brilliance

But from the 27th minute of the second leg when FC Goa’s Alberto Noguera had the game’s first shot on target, the Gaurs started emerging as the stronger force. Going in at half-time, coach Juan Ferrando turned to his super sub Ishan Pandita a good half an hour before he usually does. He sensed there was an opportunity to win the game early.

He was right. Pandita gave FC Goa’s attack some dynamism and Mumbai City FC’s centre-backs a real problem to deal with. His movement caused them issues and FC Goa well and truly took control of the game.

Chances followed for the Gaurs while those of Mumbai City FC at the other end, completely dried up. There were clear signs that the semi-final tie was finally turning one way. It was not going to be easy against a Mumbai City FC side that could more than hold onto their own but everything pointed to an FC Goa goal.

Amrinder Singh, Mumbai City FC’s captain and man between the sticks was delaying the inevitable with some stunning saves. It wasn’t something he didn’t have the reputation for but even for his standards, he was being worked far too much. There was going to be a point, a moment where he would stand helplessly as the ball crossed the white line below the goal and do justice to FC Goa’s dominance.

However, for FC Goa that moment never came even as the game was extended into an additional thirty minutes before their dream was crushed in the penalty shootout. It was a defeat that they didn’t deserve but were forced to accept. Goa paid the price for wasting the chances that should have been counted.

“I think the other team was good and I am happy with the performance. I think it’s necessary to talk about a great job of the coaching staff and the players. We are upset about the penalty but happy about the overall job,” Ferrando said after the game.

Adaptive Mumbai City FC

Mumbai City FC, who looked almost invincible in the league phase, were made to play second fiddle in the semi-final.

But what counted in the end is that instead of panicking and letting frustration kick in, Sergio Lobera’s men accepted the situation. They adapted to it and survived periods of danger.

That was not how Mumbai City FC had played their football all season, but that was what the situation demanded.

“I’m proud of my players that despite not being able to stay loyal to our style of play, stayed strong. We played in the best possible way according to the situation, we survived, we fought and remained in the game. I’m happy that the players managed so well,” Mumbai City coach Sergio Lobera said after the game.

There are different ways to win a football match and the best teams need not always play their best game to win a match. Mumbai City FC adjusted well and despite Goa’s dominance, managed to stay in the game and eventually win it. A clear hallmark of champions.

Madness over method

When the game extended into grace period of extra-time, there was only ever going to be one winner. But FC Goa’s swag vanished as they, just like their opponents, began going through the motions. It was like a switch that was turned in a flash and FC Goa’s dominance gave way to a passive passage of play. This wasn’t a result of Mumbai improving but just FC Goa losing their edge.

The game was playing funny tricks. The extra-time passed as if it was a formality and the result already determined. And then it livened up as the final few minutes of the additional thirty began wearing down.

FC Goa changed their goalkeeper with penalties looming. Dheeraj Singh had been the club’s first choice for a while and had done well across the two legs of the semi-final but his moment of glory was being snatched away from him. The more seasoned Naveen Kumar replaced him.

If that was surprising, there was an even bigger shock in store. Mumbai City followed suit. They decided to take off Amrinder, their captain and one of India’s top goalkeepers for a 23-year-old rookie, Phurba Lachenpa, who had never played in the ISL before.

The shootout began with only two of the opening six penalties being scored. FC Goa missed their first two and just when it seemed they would fail to recover, Mumbai missed twice, allowing them a route back into the game.

Mumbai once again had a chance when Ahmed Jahouh could have given them a 3-2 victory on penalties and he missed. The more chances Mumbai blew to win the game, the more it appeared that it would be FC Goa’s game. But fate had other ideas. In sudden death, after both teams had scored three penalties on the spin, Glan Martins missed allowing Rowllin Borges to clinch the tie.

Mumbai City FC, after missing three penalties and having zero shots on target in the entire game compared to six for FC Goa, managed to progress to the final. This was not how most would have anticipated the tie to pan out but football on Monday was following its own script.

After methods and meticulous football had failed to separate the teams after 210 minutes, 21 minutes of madness did the trick.