Just under a year ago, Derrick Pereira and Khalid Jamil were on opposite dugouts as Churchill Brothers and Aizawl FC battled it out in the second round of the Federation Cup at the Barabati stadium in Cuttack.
That day, Lalramchullova had given Aizawl the lead before an Ansumana Kromah's 84th minute equalizer had brought the Goa side back into the game. It would end in heartbreak for Pereira’s men ultimately though as Laldanmawia Ralte thundered in a 90th minute header to seal Aizawl’s progression.
The Kalinga stadium might be 25 kilometers or so away from Cuttack but the change in settings did not bring about any change in fortunes for Pereira as a 79th minute Dudu Omagbemi goal proved to be enough for the Kolkata giants to seal their spot in the finals.
Standing in as coach for Sergio Lobera in the tournament, the Goan native’s hands had been tied already coming into the clash after the half-time scuffle during his side’s quarter-final win over Jamshedpur FC.
With only two outfield players on the bench and only Edu Bedia along with Ferran Corominas as the available overseas recruits, the Gaurs were always going to face an uphill task against the Red and Golds.
Despite these enormous handicaps, the Indian Super League (ISL) outfit could well have found themselves progressing to the finals if they had taken the gilt-edged chances during the 90 minutes.
That is not to say that East Bengal were not thoroughly deserving of their place in the finals. If Goa had been profligate in front of goal, the I-League club had almost given that word a whole new meaning.
They could have been out of sight in the Bhubaneswar heat and humidity within 20 minutes of the game itself. However, much to the frustration of Jamil, East Bengal’s overseas trio of Katsumi Yusa, Mahmoud Al Amna and Dudu seemed to have left behind their finishing boots in Kolkata itself.
Their attacking interplay was neat and incisive as they put Goa under the kosh for majority of the match. Although, like a lazy artist, they almost showed a certain disdain to applying the finishing strokes after sketching out a masterpiece in attack.
The result in the end should have borne a greater resemblance to a tennis score rather than a one-goal margin. While Jamil’s men will get a bite at the trophy on Friday, they will know that such wastefulness will hurt them hard if repeated.
For Pereira and Goa, it was a case of so nearly. Forced to make as many as five changes to the playing XI for the tie, the ISL outfit changed their tactics from their usual gung-ho approach. There was no pressing from the front as has been the custom in their ISL campaign. Instead, the focus was on defending from the midfield as they sought to shield their relatively inexperienced back-line.
Playing a game of small margins, Goa were content to absorb all the pressure, picking and choosing their moments to attack very cleverly. Corominas was fantastic in this regard as he took a deeper role in attack with Manvir Singh playing up top as the striker.
The Spaniard was at the heart of everything good that Goa put together as he showed his class on the ball. He however, will be ruing not putting his side ahead at the stroke of half-time after a mesmeric run into the box that left East Bengal’s defence wondering what hit them.
Coming agonizingly close to snatching a last-ditch equalizer through Manvir would have been a bitter pill for Periera to swallow but he and his men can be proud of their efforts given the circumstances at hand.
If there was any sore point in Goa’s performance then it was through that of their skipper Edu Bedia. The Spaniard seemed to come into the match with a death wish to get sent off at the earliest. After mocking the cup tournament on Instagram prior to the game, the midfielder showed a complete lack of professionalism during the match.
Bedia almost seemed to be holding a grudge for the punishments handed out to the Goa side in the quarter-final scuffle as he dished it out to the referee and East Bengal opponents constantly throughout the match. His sending off for a second yellow in the 82nd minute was almost an entire half too late if anything.
In the end, the Gaurs have faltered on the penultimate step for the second time this season. But they, and Periera, can be much prouder of this performance than the two-legged loss to Chennaiyin FC in the semi-finals.
For East Bengal and Jamil, there will be plenty of positives to take in before the Friday summit clash. But, they will need to sort out their finishing boots first if they are to have a chance.