NorthEast United 2 – Bengaluru FC 1
1) Tlang Epitomizes Spirit In Highlanders Squad
NorthEast United have stunned most observers this season with their performances and it is fair to say that a maiden playoff appearance was considered beyond the realms of possibility before the season began. Their foreign signings have paid off spectacularly however and have taken the plaudits throughout the season. Amongst the Indians, Rowllin Borges’ displays earned him a place on the plane to the Asian Cup, but a couple of players have routinely made the starting lineup upfront along with Bartholomew Ogbeche and Federico Gallego without making the headlines. Lalthathanga Khawlhring (Puitea) and Redeem Tlang have been full of industry and running, putting in the hard yards that have allowed the stars to shine, without offensive rewards to go with it. That changed in this game and Tlang got his first goal of the campaign on the stage that matters. It was a beauty too, taking everyone by surprise including the goal scorer himself, and set the Highlanders up for their first ever victory over the Blues.
2) Away Goal Leaves Tie Finely Poised
Bengaluru have struggled to find the target from their shots against NorthEast all season and that continued in this game, with only three attempts heading towards goal. Thankfully for them, one of them squirmed past Pawan Kumar and the Blues can head back to the Kanteerava with an invaluable away goal. Bengaluru are unbeaten at their home stadium this season and can count on the vociferous support of the West Block Blues as they attempt to make a second straight appearance in the final. A lack of incision will be a source of worry for Carles Cuadrat and co. however, and they will have to come up with plans to thwart the Highlanders backline and Jose Leudo, who has been a rock in front of them. Sunil Chhetri and Udanta Singh have not been allowed to cut in and take shots, let alone find the target. It will be interesting to see if the India internationals can force their way through in Bengaluru.
Mumbai City FC 1 – FC Goa 5
3) Islanders Fall To Demoralizing Defeat
Mumbai feed off the scraps that opponents leave them, and they took that up a notch by harrying Goa with sustained intensity for the first thirty minutes of this encounter. After having been beaten by a combined score line of 7-0 in the two league fixtures, they needed a new plan and this one worked a treat. They put a man on Ahmed Jahouh, the Gaurs orchestrator, and pressed higher up the pitch. Goa were knocked off their stride and the Islanders took a deserved lead in the 20thminute. Unfortunately for them, defensive errors gifted the visitors a couple of goals before half-time and the stuffing was knocked out of the side. They did not press with anything like the same intensity in the second half and Goa took home a huge first leg lead. It will need something special from Mumbai to turn this tie around.
4) Gaurs In Huge Win But Concerns Remain
Goa would have been hoping to head back home with some kind of advantage, but this result would have been beyond anyone’s dreams. For the first third of the match, they looked every inch the side accused of not having a Plan B and if it had not been for Amrinder Singh spilling the ball onto the path of Jackichand Singh and non-existent defending on Mourtada Fall’s first goal, they could very well have been in for a long night. As sumptuous as the football was with the pressure lifted in the second half, there was a cavalier approach to the defending and Mumbai had numerous opportunities to add to their one goal. On another night against a different team, say in a final, they could be punished.