FC Goa shook off a day-long ordeal to play out a valiant 1-1 draw against defending champions ATK in a delayed Indian Super League match that got over well past midnight under unforeseen circumstances at the Saltlake Stadium, here.
In a first in Indian football and in one of the rarest instances, the match kicked off at 10.45pm in peak winter after a day-long drama surrounding FC Goa team’s arrival.
The Goan team’s arrival got delayed following technical snag to their chartered flight and later due to crash of a fighter jet at the Dabolim airport that forced the closure of the runway.
To make matters worse for the visitors, captain Robbie Keane headed home from Ryan Taylor’s angled free kick to give ATK the lead against the fatigued Goans in less than four minutes.
The Goans were quick to bounce back to restore parity in the 24th minute when Spanish forward Ferran Corominas surged past Ashutosh Mehta and rounded off ATK goalkeeper Debjit Majumder en route to his ninth ISL goal.
The visitors then went on to dominate the pitch and nearly got a 39th minute penalty when Brandon Fernandes was brought down by Prabir Das inside the box but referee Srikirishna thought otherwise.
Goa once again got a fine opportunity in the 73rd minute as Corominas latched on to the ball from a throw-in to set up Mandar Rao Dessai whose right footed shot was easily cleared away as both teams shared the spoils.
It was Goa’s maiden draw of the season, a creditable result under the circumstances, to move up to fourth spot ahead of Mumbai City FC on goal difference, while ATK remained on seventh.
A fuming FC Goa head coach Sergio Lobera was furious with the organisers for conducting the late night match.
“I have never faced (such a situation) in professional football. ISL is a great league and it does not deserve matches like today,” Lobera said after the match.
“It’s not a good spectacle. We spent the entire day at the airport with nothing to eat and nowhere to rest. And we had to come here running, as otherwise, we would have lost three points,” he lamented.
FC Goa’s chartered flight finally took off at 6.30pm after getting the necessary clearance and landed around 9pm at the Dum Dum airport from where they headed straight to the Saltlake Stadium.
A few thousand anxious fans kept on waiting while ATK were going through their paces when the Sergio Lobera-coached side entered the pitch at 9.45pm.
But there was more drama in store as they turned up in casual gear of red T-shirts and black shorts as their team kit had not arrived.
FC Goa team management held intense discussions with the match commissioner before the players huddled up and went about their drills.
In the evening the organisers had stated in a release that the match will be delayed by a “minimum one hour due to unavoidable circumstances”.
But what transpired on the field was a series of delays beginning with a 9.30pm announcement.
There was speculation of a cancellation before the National Anthem was played at 10.40pm and the match finally kicked off after a delay of two hours and 45 minutes.
There has been one instance in La Liga when Barcelona had played their home match against Sevilla five minutes past midnight in September 2003.
But it was a different scenario for FC Goa-ATK match that was originally scheduled on December 31 but it was postponed to January 3 after the police here refused to provide security arrangement citing New Year’s eve revelry.
What followed was a series of setbacks and bad luck for the Gaurs who chartered a flight for January 2 to reach Kolkata after they were unable to get all their technical staff and players on a single passenger flight.
But the chartered flight developed a technical snag and the team could not fly out of Goa on January 2 afternoon and rescheduled their departure time to 1am on the match day.
Then again there was another technical snag and they could not take off. More bad luck was in store for the Gaurs as a MiG-29K aircraft caught fire after veering off the runway, which led to operations at the Goa airport being suspended in the afternoon.
Goa will now travel to by Guwahati to play NorthEast United FC on January 6 and return home to take on Jamshedpur FC on January 11.
ATK, on the other hand, will travel to Bengaluru FC for their January 7 clash at the Kanteerava Stadium.