The Gaurs had a real go at home but could not quite script a comeback that would’ve halted Chennaiyin FC’s sensational run to the final.
In the battle between two teams with brilliant attacks, it were the away goals that made the difference in the end. Both teams scored four at home. But Chennaiyin managed two priceless goals at the Fatorda to offset Saviour Gama’s strike last Saturday.
FC Goa were back to full-strength for this clash, thanks to the recoveries of Hugo Boumous and Brandon Fernandes and the return of Edu Bedia from Spain. Chennaiyin would have expected a full onslaught right from the word go from a team whose pride was hurt last weekend.
They had to survive that phase but they barely did as Goa wreaked havoc in the first 20 minutes. Chennaiyin’s midfield was bypassed with ease as Anirudh Thapa and Edwin Vanspaul turned into mere ball-watchers. Ahmed Jahouh was outstanding as Goa attacked without giving Chennaiyin any respite. The sustained pressure forced captain Lucian Goian into scoring an own goal in the 10th minute – the worst possible start Owen Coyle could have hoped for.
It got worse 10 minutes later when Mourtada Fall headed Brandon’s freekick in and the complexion of the tie had suddenly changed. Goa needed just one more goal to inch ahead on aggregate and the third goal looked like a question of when and not if.
But Chennaiyin had a stroke of fortune in the aftermath of that goal when Boumous was taken off injured. Clearly, the Moroccan had been rushed back from his earlier injury and was not, presumably, fully fit. Edu Bedia came in for him and that meant Goa’s attacking tempo came down a few notches.
That gave the visitors some breathing space to regroup and get their forwards involved in the game a bit more. Chennaiyin slowly grew into the game and looked more comfortable dealing with Goa than they were in that initial phase.
Once they got to half-time without suffering further damage, Chennaiyin knew all they had to do to put the tie to bed was score. As has happened so often this season, Chennaiyin were full of belief at the restart, the confidence gained towards the latter part of the opening period propelling their start to the second.
Rafael Crivellaro, who had scant service in the first half, is very hard to keep out of a game and he played a key role as Chennaiyin pegged Goa back with two goals. It was his terrific shot that was parried into Lallianzuala Chhangte’s path by Mohammed Nawaz. A few minutes later, his corner was headed in by Nerijus Valskis.
Goa’s defending is not their strong suit and it was evident why during the Valskis goal. Neither Fall nor Carlos Pena were anywhere near to him as he scored a free header from the six-yard box.
The two goals meant Goa now had to score four in order to go through. On the evidence of how the game had panned out after Boumous’ withdrawal, it was hard to imagine such an outcome.
In fact, Chennaiyin were almost relaxed and composed after the second goal and looked to be cruising into the final before a lapse in concentration gifted Edu Bedia a goal. Goa duly followed up with another goal from Fall to make things interesting. Goa now needed two more goals in, say, 10 minutes. But that was it. There was nothing more as Chennaiyin saw the game out, despite a few nervous moments.
Goa always score in clumps and have phases where they attack relentlessly. But then they go missing for a while. As Chennaiyin have shown over two legs, it is all about surviving those phases and hurting them when they take the foot off the pedal.
On Saturday, it could be argued that Goa were all over Chennaiyin for about 30 minutes in the game – the initial 20 minutes and 10 minutes following the third goal. And in the first 15 minutes of that second half, Goa were lethargic and were punished. But this loss takes nothing away from the Gaurs.
They had a fantastic season, won the league stage and will represent India in the AFC Champions League – pretty neat!