After their recent loss in the prestige fight against fellow title challengers Bengaluru FC, the FC Goa camp was an epitome of silence, probably waiting for a dressing-down from head coach Sergio Lobera. The Spanish coach, though, surprised the room.
“Today everyone made mistakes, including me,” he announced taking a fair share of the blame as the outfit pledged to bring out their best in the business end of the Indian Super League.
And if Saturday’s 5-1 victory against Mumbai City FC is anything to go by, they have already done half their job by almost booking a place in next weekend’s final. It was a comeback win, one that became such one-sided after a point that memories of the 7-0 thrashing from a few years ago were rekindled.
The start though, was almost one-sided in favour of the hosts. Arnold Issoko once again showed his class to create space on the right, creating two clear-cut chances within the first quarter of the match, one of which earned Mumbai the lead.
A more interesting battle was playing out at the other end, where Ferran Corominas was being dealt with by a prepared Mumbai defence. The former Espanyol striker loves dragging the central defenders with him while dropping down and creates space for the likes of Jackichand Singh and Brandon Fernandes behind the defense. Mumbai didn’t fall in that trap today as Lucian Goian and Joyner Lourenco were prudent enough to not chase him when his back was towards the goal.
While that nullified the threat, a new fault-line split open. With defenders not charging the striker and the midfield evenly poised, there were not enough bodies to block shots in case Coro tried to shoot from distance. The veteran read this very early and Goa equalized from one of his long-rangers.
The goal changed the game’s complexion a little. The away team took hold of the wings, but in the middle both Raynier and Machado were mobile enough to thwart the threat posed by a nimble Edu Bedia.
Mumbai’s unravelling started with the second goal – an incredibly soft one to concede at this stage with Mourtada Fall nodding the ball home at the far post with his marker Subhasish Bose looking in dismay. It was a horrid evening for the team’s only regular India international, who has also been the most consistent Indian outfield player for Ranbir Kapoor-owned franchise.
When Jorge Costa said after the match that “I thought the game was almost over in the first half”, he was probably using the wisdom of retrospect but the second goal somehow made Mumbai’s spine crumble.
After the change of sides, it was one-way traffic suddenly. There was no major tactical shift; it was just one team switching off and another pressing the accelerator. By the hour mark, Goa were sitting on a three-goal cushion with the central defender completing a brace and the main talisman equalling his goal tally with the total number of goals scored by Chennaiyin FC.
Mumbai tried to obliterate all disappointments about their under-par defending by engaging in inconsequential arguments with the match officials. They were not running the show, but managed to create some standalone chances, only to be denied by Naveen Kumar – who had one of the few memorable league outings of his career. Goian missed one golden chance from hand-shaking distance and at the end, Mumbai had eight on-target shots, only two less than the travelling outfit.
But the point remains that most of the chances in the second half came against the run of play. Costa’s men have won points from losing points in only one match this season and that is a proof of the team’s weakness to come out on top after being caught on the wrong foot.
For Goa, it was the other way round. “Yes, we were struggling to find our feet in the first 20 minutes. But, today I am taking home the positive way the team reacted to those negative moments,” Lobera said after the match, lauding his pupils.
Goa’s opponents will have an extra day’s rest before the finals, but that shouldn’t bother the former Barcelona youth team coach, whose team’s will be searching for their maiden silverware after losing out in an eventful finale four years ago.