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Friday, April 23, 2021

ISL 2020/21 Semifinals: Ties hang in the balance ahead of second-leg showdowns

With no away goals rule this season, teams with the highest goal aggregate progress to the ISL finals.

Written by Shashank Nair | New Delhi |
Updated: March 9, 2021 8:47:42 am
NorthEast United's Idrissa Sylla scored an injury-time equaliser in the first leg of their semifinal against ATK Mohun Bagan. (ISL)

At the start of the season, FC Goa knew that an exodus was about to take place. What they didn’t know was that Mandar Rao Dessai would be the first to exit the club and head to the Mumbai City FC camp.

The full-back, who plied on the left side of the field, was a key Indian figure among the ranks for Goa last season, someone who helped them get to the AFC Champions League spot. As this season of the Indian Super League has gone on, the move to Mumbai has paid off for Dessai. He has once again managed to reach the AFC Champions League and will be with a team that will be looking to compete amongst Asia’s biggest clubs.

The Indian angle

But their entry into the ISL playoff final still hangs in the balance and Dessai’s careless tackle in the box at the opening of the game, allowed Goa to breach Mumbai’s defence. Consequently, his replacement at Goa, lived up to his name.
Saviour Gama was brought in from within the ranks to replace Dessai by the Guars. Gama started the season with an assist in the fourth round, which allowed Goa to rack their first win of the season against Kerala Blasters. In their 2-2 first-leg draw against Mumbai in the semi-final, it was Gama who once again turned up to save his side, this time from a left-footed striker from outside the box.

Gama encapsulated the story that has been Goa’s this season. Despite losing a major chunk of their team that took them to the AFC Champions League, they have somehow managed to procure or promote players, who have performed well enough to put last year’s league winners in an almost winner-takes-it-all position for the second leg.

The foreign hand

As for Mumbai, this season has already seen its highest of highs. Winning the league has meant that the City Football Group’s latest venture is off to a flying start. Winning the playoff would be the icing on the cake but it would require their best players to take their best opportunities.

Bartholomew Ogbeche had at least three chances where a better connection could have led to a better shot on target. But with the kind of personnel Mumbai have, their odds of scoring more than their opponents stand taller in the second leg tonight.

Another player for Mumbai that has been crucial is Murtada Fall. A bully of a defender, Fall scored his 13th ISL goal in the first leg. This season in itself has seen the central defender rise the highest and score important headers for his team when needed.

Play of the weekend

The other semi-final saw an underrated NorthEast United team pitted against ATK Mohun Bagan.

NEUFC were threatening ever since Roy Krishna made his fifth assist of the season to help David Williams score the opener. Khalid Jamil’s team even came close in the 47th minute after hitting the woodwork.

But it was in the dying moments of the game that NorthEast finally got the goal they so richly deserved.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. And NEUFC’s defence launched a hopeful ball into the ATK half. Idrissa Sylla was directly underneath the falling ball. He somehow brought it onto his feet and passed the ball to Luis Machado.

NEUFC’s egalitarian goalscoring has seen multiple players score three or more goals for them this season. The best of whom is Machado who has scored seven from the midfield this season.

But Machado turned provided this time, dropping in an inch-perfect cross for Sylla who had nestled himself between Indian international Pritam Kotal and Prabir Das. With no one guarding him, Sylla had an easy header that he directed to ATK’s far post for the equaliser in extra time.

As things stand, both semi-finals are tied 2-2 and 1-1 respectively. But no away goal rule for these playoffs means that the advantage that Mumbai and ATK would have enjoyed, isn’t applicable and teams with the highest goal aggregate progress to the finals.

Semifinals Second Leg

Mumbai City FC vs FC Goa (Agg: 2-2), March 8, 7:30 PM
ATK Mohun Bagan vs NorthEast United FC (Agg: 1-1), March 9, 7:30 PM

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