Joffre Gonzalez must have thought he won it for FC Goa. Eight-seven minutes on the clock and he had scored from a free-kick – for once Chennaiyin FC ‘keeper Edel Apoula – probably a tad unsighted, or caught off guard by the slight deflection from the wall – was not up to the mark. Goa didn’t care. They went over the top with their celebrations. In the directors’ box, team co-owner Virat Kohli jumped out of his seat and punched the air. They were not prepared for the drama that would unfold in the next seven minutes.
Chennaiyin FC didn’t give up and equalised almost immediately. Goa goalkeeper Laxmikant Kattimani, always unsure about his outing, moved out of the line to negotiate a Mehrajuddin Wadoo punt from the right. He collided with his own defender and allowed the ball to slide off his gloves into the net. Then, befittingly, player of the tournament Stiven Mendoza turned his marker Gregory Arnolin and placed it at the near post with what was virtually the last kick of the game. 3-2, and the men from ‘Marina arena’ had the cup. ‘Football, bloody hell’!
What a turnaround for a team that only three weeks ago had been lying at the foot of the table. They needed to win four matches on the bounce to get into the semi-finals. Marco Materazzi’s boys did it before knocking out Atletico de Kolkata in the last four. Chennaiyin’s progress in the face of adversity spoke about their resolve. Their effort in the final, against the most consistent team of the tournament, showed character. Chennaiyin’s fans back home fought tooth and nail when a natural disaster had put them on the edge. The spirit had rubbed off on the team. The triumph was well deserved.
Goa had the opportunity to play the final in front of their home fans at Fatorda. And Zico opted for an attacking 3-5-2 against his counterpart’s midfield diamond. On six minutes, he had to tweak as centre-forward Dudu Omagbemi suffered concussion following a head injury. The Nigerian was taken to the hospital as precaution, while Jonathan Lucca came as a replacement. A few minutes later Mandar Dessai fell on the pitch with a gash on his shin; a direct consequence of a nasty follow-through from Wadoo. The winger braved his injury and continued. Leo Moura, however, had to be taken off at half-time. It was a big blow. The former Flamengo defender had revelled in his makeshift No. 10 role in this ISL. He picked up a knock and failed to carry on. Little wonder that Zico looked pensive – ominous signs that it wasn’t going to be Goa’s night.
Amid all these, Chennaiyin’s Bruno Pelissari had a crack at the opposition goal, following on a lovely Mendoza lay-off. It didn’t miss the target by much. Rafael Coelho responded with a powerful header that was cleared off the line.
Chennaiyin went ahead on 54 minutes after Mendoza was brought down inside the area by Pronay Halder. The Colombian was going nowhere and it was poor from the Goa left back. A soft penalty was conceded and Pelissari came forward to take it. Kattimani, however, had guessed his intentions right and saved the shot, but the rebound fell nicely for the Brazilian to tap in. The entire Goa rearguard seemed to be on a sleepwalk mode.
The lead didn’t last long as Romeo Fernandes whipped in a cross from the right that found the substitute Thongkhosiem Haokip at the far post for a simple toe poke. But Goa gave away another penalty when Mendoza’s surging run was intercepted by the inrushing Kattimani. The contact appeared to be minimal and the decision looked a little harsh. The ‘keeper was livid but composed himself well enough to deny Mendoza from the spot.
Then, tired legs began to surface and the number of fouls started to increase. Tempers flew. Edel made a brilliant save to keep Haokip at bay before Joffre scored from the free-kick. A turnout 18,497 started an early Christmas party. But Mendoza had saved the best for last. “God was with Chennaiyin today,” captain Bernard Mendy said after the match.