FC Goa 4 – Chennaiyin FC 2 (Chennaiyin Win 6-5 On Aggregate)
1) Playoffs Disappointment Yet Again For Gaurs
There isn’t a more consistent team in the league. Six seasons have brought five playoff appearances for FC Goa but not a single title and this one shall hurt as well. The Gaurs did lift the league winner’s shield, thereby qualifying for the AFC Champions League, but that will be scant consolation for Clifford Miranda’s men in the short term. They had been given a boost before kickoff with the addition of Hugo Boumous and Brandon Fernandes in the playing eleven after both players missed the first leg with injuries. At 2-0, it looked like a comeback was well and truly on but Boumous was stretchered off the field immediately after the second goal and the host side lost the initiative. A mistake from Mohammad Nawaz in goal early in the second half turned the tie for good and once Nerijus Valskis was left unmarked on a corner, there was no coming back. A couple of Goan goals in the closing minutes added some excitement to proceedings at the very end, but a miracle win was never on the cards.
2) Incredible Turnaround Continues At Pace For Chennaiyin
For all the romanticism surrounding Chennaiyin’s first title triumph in 2015, they were not cut adrift at the bottom of the table at any stage that season nor were they there for very long. True, they did win four on the bounce to take a playoff spot but were also aided by a spectacular implosion from Pune, who lost their last four. This season has been different. They started it with the ghost of last season’s last-placed finish hanging heavy over them. To make things worse, they did not score a single goal in their first four matches, collecting one point from those games. The failures were systemic and change was needed which is why Owen Coyle’s work in reviving the franchise deserves more acclaim than the heroics from 2015. Only two losses came in thirteen games since he took over and until this second leg loss at the Fatorda, the Machans had not been at the receiving end of a defeat in two months. They carry some serious momentum into the final and at this stage, few would bet against them.
ATK 3 – Bengaluru FC 1 (ATK Win 3-2 On Aggregate)
3) Prabir Das Deserves His National Call-Up
Earlier this season, I had written a piece on India’s full-back problem and the lack of offensive threat players in that position provide. I had identified Prabir Das as the player with the best attacking end-product in the country and after a great season at ATK, he raised his performance levels by several notches in a must-win scenario against the defending champions. After conceding early, the hosts needed three goals without reply to go through to the final and that is exactly what Antonio López Habas’ side delivered on. Two of those goals, including the one that sealed the tie, were created by Das. He had in many ways been the only attacking outlet against a typically resolute Bengaluru rearguard, but two delicious crosses were met strongly by Roy Krishna and David Williams with a penalty conversion by the Aussie sandwiching those efforts. He showed that he could defend too with a last ditch clearance in the ninetieth minute denying the Blues in the end. A call-up to the national team camp for the World Cup qualifier against Qatar was the least that his performances this season deserve and he will hope to turn up with an ISL winner’s medal in his kitty.
4) Unconvincing Season Ends For The Blues
Bengaluru showed that they could not be written off at many points this season but if Carles Cuadrat were honest with himself, he would admit that the Blues were not at their best in many departments. The sheer force of will that characterises this side came to the fore yet again in the first leg of this semifinal and the opening half hour of this fixture as they went 2-0 up on aggregate. If this match were being played in the last two seasons, ATK’s chances would have been next to zero but the Blues have been devoid of their usual air of invincibility this campaign. The backline, as usual, did their jobs well besides Suresh Wangjam’s untimely lunge on Williams in the box. It is the forwards and wingers who shoulder most of the responsibility for what will be considered a failed season by a club with limitless ambition. Only Hyderabad and NorthEast United scored fewer than their twenty-two goals in the league phase and as it turned out, a goal apiece in the two semifinal legs just wasn’t enough.