Chennaiyin FC head into the second leg semifinal against FC Goa in the Indian Super League in Chennai on Tuesday, with the advantage of having scored an away goal in the first leg, which ended 1-1.
The 2015 champions start favourites to enter the final but can expect a stiff fight from the visitors, in search of a maiden ISL triumph.
The Chennai team had faced FC Goa in its first league match this season at the Marina Arena and bounced back well after a nightmarish first half to nearly secure a draw.
But a lot has happened since that game last November and the two teams have gone through ups and down to reach the play-offs. While Goa have scored the maximum number of goals (43 till the first leg of the play-offs), Chennaiyin haven’t been so prolific in finding the net (with 25 so far).
The former champions managed an away goal in the first leg on Saturday but would be aware that they could have gained a significant advantage if the forwards had not frittered away things.
Also, Goa’s goalkeeper Laxmikant Kattimani did a great job to deny the Chennaiyin strike force.
Coach John Gregory would once again rely on the midfield duo of Dhanpal Ganesh and Bikramjit Singh to keep Goa’s attacking players at bay. Mailson Alves and Henrique Sereno had underlined their importance with another good show and will be expected to maintain their standards in the second leg.
The focus will be on Jeje Lalpekhlua, who would like to get back among the goals after fluffing a few chances in the previous game.
Gregory would also expect the experienced Raphael Augusto to make more attacking forays into the opposition half and build the pressure on the rival defence.
The visiting FC Goa side will be aware that they have to score as a draw won’t be enough. The prolific Ferran Corominas (the leading goal-scorer with 18 so far) endured a quiet game on Saturday and the onus would be on him to lead from the front.
Goa coach Sergio Lobera has advocated an attacking philosophy for the team, which has worked too. He would look up to Corominas to do some damage upfront and expect the midfield, expected to feature Morocco’s Hugo Boumous, to provide the thrust.
The team emerged victorious the last time it was here and will hope to win a second time to seal a spot in the March 17 final against Bengaluru FC.
However, they will be up against an inspired Chennaiyin team backed by a ‘sea of blue’.