FC Goa weathered a mid-season storm to power through to the playoffs in the fourth season of the Hero Indian Super League and will face John Gregory’s Chennaiyin FC. The Gaurs have made it through for the third time in four years, reaching the final on one previous occasion. FC Goa are locked in a familiar rivalry with Chennaiyin FC, having played the Marina Machas 9 times over the last four seasons, winning four times and losing the 5, including an epic final encounter at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Fatorda.
This time around, Sergio Lobera’s men will look to get one up on their rivals and make it to the final of the ISL where a potential clash against Bengaluru FC or FC Pune City awaits. The teams started their campaign this time around with a match against each other in Chennai where the Gaurs raced to a 3-0 lead at half-time. A spirited showing in the second half prompted a scintillating comeback but the Gaurs held strong to keep Chennai out to secure a tight 3-2 win away. The return fixture was another tight affair with Chennaiyin running out narrow 1-0 winners following a Jeje Lalpekhlua goal from a tight angle.
Chennaiyin FC have a well-balanced side and rely on their strong defence to shut out opponents. They are one of the only teams in the ISL to employ three foreign players in their backline. Henrique Sereno and Mailson Alves provide them with great stability behind while Inigo Calderon and Jerry Lalrinzuala provide the team with extra width from the full back positions. Gregory Nelson, Raphael Augusto and Rene Mihelic are superb midfielders and have been great for their side during the campaign while Jeje will spearhead their attack. The Mizo sniper has netted 7 goals for his side and is a constant threat for any defence.
With Naveen Kumar out suspended following his sending off against Jamshedpur FC in FC Goa’s last league encounter, skipper Laxmikant Kattimani will occupy the space between the sticks. Sergio Lobera is likely to stick with a central defensive partnership of Sergio Juste and Chinglensana Singh who kept a clean sheet in the previous match. Seriton Fernandes has been one of the standout players in this team and he will start at right back along with Narayan Das on the left. With Brandon Fernandes returning to full fitness, it will be interesting to see if the coach goes with the Goan winger or he continues to employ Pronay Halder in midfield alongside Ahmed Jahouh. Edu Bedia is also an option to start in midfield or an advanced midfield position. Mandar Rao Dessai, Manuel Lanzarote and Ferran Corominas will be sure starters.
The battle between Mailson and Coro will be one to watch out for. The burly Brazilian is a good central defender who reads the game well and is capable of tackling. The Spaniard on the other hand, is a wily customer and it is his tenacity which has seen him score 18 goals in the tournament so far. He will be looking to further increase that tally. Lanzarote on the other hand will be involved in a battle against Jerry Lalrinzuala. Juste and Sana will have to watch out for Jeje whose turn of speed can cause any defence trouble.
The FC Goa squad has been reliant on their Spanish duo of Coro and Lanzarote to do the bulk of the scoring. However, Sergio Lobera stresses on the fact that the rest of the team has to do their job in order to help these forward players continue in the same vein of form. “Our style of play won’t change. The team needs to continue with the same mentality. Coro and Lanzarote play in positions that we need them to score in. I don’t expect my defenders to score be a lot of goals. The players who end up scoring goals usually play in more forward positions and that’s exactly what these two players have done. That being said, the rest of the team has to continue to play their part which is vital in helping these guys keep their scoring form,” he explained. He also stressed on the fact that the Indian contingent in the squad has done well this tournament to ensure that team made it to the playoff stage.
Coach John Gregory noted that his team’s run to second spot on the league table was no accident and that his team has worked hard to get there. “We have been good this season. We have stepped up and won important matches and we have been particularly good on the road. We have to start from scratch now though. It’s purely a 2 legged semi and one off final and I am ready for it,” he said. Gregory also touched on the fact that his team aren’t the most prolific scorers but they have been efficient. “Goa have been a fantastic team going forward. We on the other hand aren’t the most prolific going forward. But Jeje has come up with the goods when we have needed him to. We have been a good collective unit and will continue to be so for the remaining matches,” he added.
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