The Gaurs suffered a heartbreak in the showpiece four years ago but now have a more complete squad at their disposal.
If the Indian Super League has to revisit a memorable comeback in its five-year-old history, most ardent followers would think of December 20, 2015. The final of the second edition was being played at FC Goa’s den, the Fatorda Stadium and the home team were being challenged by a resolute Chennaiyin FC side, managed by the-man-of-mind-games Marco Materazzi.
The ship was steady, until the 86th minute. The score was 1-1, and both teams were looking at the tie-breaker. Jofre Mateu, one of the most creative minds this league has seen, scored one for the hosts. Little did he know that comebacks can be an empowering and orgasmic lust in football – easily seen in any late turnaround that has been scripted time and again by Manchester United.
And it did. An error from goalkeeper Laxmikant Kattimani saw the home fans go numb and a Stiven Mendoza wonder goal gave the away side the trophy and their fans, their first taste of victory. The league had been in its nascent stages, then.
Ferran Corominas would be the prime difference between the two sides
It isn’t, now. It has come a long way and looks set to replace the I-league as India’s top tier in the near future. Goa, meanwhile, stand at the cusp of history again and have another shot at the title at the weekend. It was Zico’s mercuriality then; it’s Sergio Lobera’s keep-possession-and-kill now. We take a look at how things have changed for the Gaurs over the years.
There’s one man, though, who remains in the midst – Mandar Rao Dessai, who wears the armband now and has descended from left wing to left-back, but purely in positional terms. The club, then, had a midfield that most teams would be jealous of. It now has an attacking quartet that invokes fear.
Leo Moura and Bikramjit Singh were rock-solid in their defensive midfield roles and Jonatan Lucca and Mateu created something every time they touched the ball. With Mandar and his state-mate Romeo Fernandes running down the flanks, it certainly made things interesting for the club that has time and again categorized itself in the good-football category.
Gregory Arnolin and Luciano Sabrosa held fort in front of Kattimani, a pair that was known for its no-nonsense approach to defendiong.
A lot has changed over the years though and it all started with the change at the helm. Sergio Lobera changed Zico’s dynamism with compactness on the ball and Goa, at least against most opposition, start as favorites these days.
Sergio Lobera’s Goa have excelled in possession-based football
Lobera’s Goa keep a lot of possession, at times too much of it. The players, though, excel on transition in tempo. From a slow build-up to a fast interchange of passes that usually ends with the top four feeding off one another, Goa play football synonymous with most clubs in Spain. That’s exactly what they excel at and like to do.
They have better composure and certainly fireworks when they get going. The way they have demolished several teams this season, scoring three or more goals nine teams, speaks for the chemistry they have managed to form. They depend on the cohesiveness and the fluid movement of the players, something that was halted by only Bengaluru FC on both occasions – the team that stands between them and the trophy.
The ISL’s all-time top scorer Ferran Corominas – he’s achieved that in just two seasons – recently told Khel Now in a conversation that the club has learnt its lessons from their semi-final defeat last season (Chennaiyin FC were at it again), and are raring to make amends. If they do enough to back up his words, they will stand the happier side at the end of the day.
It won’t be easy, certainly. Bengaluru, under any manager, have looked a battle-hardened team, feeding off the never-give-up attitude of Captain Sunil Chhetri. If the Blues manage to block the lines again, it could be curtains for Goa. Lobera knows this and would be training his players differently this time around. Or will he?
But, the Gaurs are better prepared than they were in 2015. They have a better defensive midfield, that does not just love to tackle and stop the opposition, but also contributes to the forward gameplay. The Indian partners in the attacking quartet, Jackichand Singh and Brandon Fernandes, have been the best players in their positions and have excelled beyond imagination for most people.
Defensively, the pairing of Mourtada Fall and Carlos Pena may have blown hot and cold, but know between themselves how to hold fort. In Hugo Boumous and Zaid Krouch, they have players who have adapted well to the system and can contribute from the bench.
Lobera pulled a bird out of the hat when he allowed Jackichand the freedom to roam centrally in the first leg of the semi-final against Mumbai City. With Corominas the main man marked, the winger exploited the space well and contributed to the 1-5 hammering in a major way.
It remains to be seen what ploy the Spaniard uses next. This is a match where both teams will be looking to exorcise their big-match ghosts. Bengaluru have done it in the past – will they do it again? Or will the Goans have the last laugh?