It was exhaustive yet an entertaining watch. The first leg of the first Indian Super League (ISL) semi-final between FC Goa and Mumbai City FC promised to be a high-intensity battle with goals from both the teams and it did manage to deliver on most fronts.
Apart from the goals " four of them with the final scoreline reading 2-2 " there were other engaging elements from match.
Refereeing mistakes, cynical tackles, injuries, good saves, midfielders putting on a great show and one manager going berserk after the final whistle. Both Mumbai and Goa had created number of chances and could've finished as winners of the tie but it was not meant to be. The 2-2 result probably is a deserved final score going into the second leg.
Goa's Igor Angulo opened the scoring thanks to a penalty. Mumbai's Hugo Boumous made it 1-1 in the first-half. Goa took the lead again after the break through Saviour Gama but minutes later, Mourtada Fall equalised. Among the four goals, Gama's strike from just outside the box should be rated five stars.
Here are the talking points from the match:
Early jolt to Mumbai and how they recovered
Sergio Lobera, the head coach of Mumbai City FC, didn't need to change much from the previous match. Mumbai were outstanding in their final league game against ATK Mohun Bagan, beating them 2-0 to ensure they become the Shield winners and qualify for the AFC Champions League.
Lobera had to deal with one selection issue though before the semi-final. Boumous, their influential midfielder, was ready to start after serving a four-match suspension. Boumous was short of match fitness so either Lobera could've benched him and asked for his services in the second-half of the first leg. Or he could've handed him a start and give him the much-needed minutes on the pitch which might help him regain some confidence. He did the latter, starting Boumous, Bart Ogbeche, Adam le Fondre and Bipin Singh as the attackers. Lobera also pushed Mandar Rao Dessai to right-back position from his preferred left-back role. Vignesh Dakshinamurthy was picked as the left-back for this match.
In the first 30-35 minutes, Lobera's changes didn't work. Playing in an unfamiliar role, Mandar couldn't cope against the trickery of Jorge Ortiz and marauding runs of Saviour. Both Goa players were linking up really well and in fact Saviour had a good chance to score as early as fifth minute. Fifteen minutes later, Goa broke the deadline after Mandar clipped Ortiz inside the box and Angulo perfectly placed his spot kick to score his 14th goal of the season.
Before Boumous made it 1-1 in the 38th minute, he wasn't making a big impression on the field. Although, his through ball to Ogbeche gave Mumbai a great opportunity to level the scoreline, only for goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh to save the shot. It was the equaliser that showed Boumous at his best. He collected the ball after a quick free kick from Ahmed Jahouh, turned around to beat Edu Bedia, tried a pass but controlled the rebound in front of three defenders and then smashed it past the goalkeeper. It was a delightful finish which proved why Lobera decided to start with his best midfielder despite significant lack of game time.
Ortiz had already proven through the course of the season that he's one of the best attacking midfielders to have graced this league. Six goals and one assist, but numbers don't tell the entire story. The darting runs accompanied by lovely dribbles to dupe the opposition players is a sight to behold. In this match, especially in the first half, he was all over the place, with Mumbai players having no answers on how to stop him. The tried to foul him but were not smart enough and instead ended up giving a penalty.
To be honest, as the second-half progressed, and this tie sapped a lot of energy out of players, Ortiz's influence somewhat waned but whenever he got the ball, he was looking dangerous. In the end, he created as many as four chances, the most by any player on the pitch, and was named as hero of the match.
Dheeraj stands tall
Goa goalkeeper Dheeraj has come under the scanner for his errors in the previous matches. No doubt the youngster has a lot of potential but his positioning and his meekness when it comes to clearing aerial threats have been his Achilles' heel. What he does possess though is good shot-stopping skills and he showed it again during the first-half against Mumbai. There were as many as three good chances for Mumbai to score in the first half but Dheeraj stood tall and came up with good saves. Right before the half-time, Mumbai created two chances to score but Dheeraj prevented them. First one was Ogbeche's header from close range and then he reacted quickly to a corner and punched the ball away as Fall escaped his markers and came close to the goal.
He couldn't do much against the two goals Mumbai scored but this performance will give confidence going into the second leg.
Gama's run and finish
Too often this season, Indian players were guilty of attempting the sensational from outside the box. A few have succeeded, but many failed and the shots ended up being slotted in the embarrassment bracket. When Gama collected the ball at the half-way mark and ran towards the goal, it was evident that he would go for the big shot. He had all the right to try for it because Mumbai players gave him acres of space. But could he actually have executed the shot? The end result was a stunner.
He generated enough power from his left foot to beat the diving Amrinder and the ball went into the bottom corner of the net. Yes, Mumbai players were at fault for giving the freedom to Gama to run and then not doing enough to block the shot but a lot of credit should go to the goal-scorer. Not only that goal, but Gama was very impressive throughout the game.
Fall's goal followed by a horrible tackle
Before we talk about Fall's tackle on Princeton Rebello, let's finish talking about Mumbai's second goal. A classic Mourtada Fall header from a classic Ahmed Jahouh ball. When Jahouh released the a ball from the right, as many as six FC Goa players were inside the box but not one of them was marking Fall. Nobody had any idea where he was and by the time they realised it, the ball was already inside the net. Fall is sensational when it comes to headers, he made a reputation out of it and to leave such a player unmarked when it was pretty evident that a cross was coming in was nothing but invitation to score. Fall said thank you and made it 2-2.
Right, now let's talk about the tackle and how referee failed to do his job. It was as blatant as it could get from Fall. Diving two-footed challenge on Princeton just outside the box with the player taking a heavy beating on his ankle. The referee was only a few yards away and had a perfect view. He gave the free kick to Goa after playing an advantage but what was surprising to see that Fall was shown only a yellow. It was a dangerous tackle and a clear red card offence. It looked like Princeton suffered a serious injury and will miss the rest of the matches. Juan Ferrando didn't hide his frustrations after the game and was seen having an animated discussion with the match commissioner.
"It's not a football tackle, it's taekwondo," Ferrando said in the post match conference. When Fall was asked about the challenge during Star Sports' post match show, he said, "I tried to win the ball, and also got a bit of it. Also my leg was down. If it was a bit up then it would have been a red. This for me is not a red card."