The first leg of the playoff clash between FC Goa and Mumbai City FC provided a welcome break for fans from the usual safety first approach teams tend to take in the latter stages of tournaments. This wasn’t too much of a surprise given the highs on which both sides entered the game with Mumbai lifting the ISL League Shield and Goa looking to bolster their record breaking 13 game unbeaten run.
Personnel wise, Serbio Lobera made a few changes to his lineup with Indian centre back Mehtab Singh coming in for Hernan Santana to make way for Hugo Boumous and Vignesh replacing the suspended Amey Ranawade that forced Mandar to play right back. Lobera gave precedence to quality over balance by picking both Ogbeche and Le Fondre and leaving traditional winger Cy Goddard on the bench for the second game running.
As for Goa, suspensions forced Juan Ferrando’s hand as he was unable to pick creative linchpin Alberto Noguera and defensive mainstay, Ivan Gonzalez. Ferrando also opted for a change in shape for the third successive time to combat Mumbai’s strengths going for a 4-3-3 shape this time with Princeton Rebello joining captain Edu Bedia and Glan Martins in midfield, coming in for Redeem Tlang.
The game was off to a sizzling start with Goa looking to take advantage of Mandar Rao Desai’s unfamiliarity with the right side of defence. Jorge Ortiz and Saviour Gama exchanged passes before the latter got a shot away that was tipped around the post by Amrinder cautiously.
Goa dominated proceedings in the opening minutes with Mumbai looking to counter. Le Fondre, occupying the right wing, was the out-ball for Mumbai and provided some sumptuous crosses but there were no takers. The forward who completed 250 career goals recently would have certainly loved to get on the end of such crosses himself.
The first of many controversial moments of the game came around the quarter hour mark when Mandar loosely gave away the ball to Romario who was then brought down by Vignesh at the edge of the box but the referee kept his whistle in his pocket.
The referee had a chance to redeem himself only minutes later when Mandar’s mistimed tackle on Ortiz inside the box gave the Gaurs a penalty. Angulo had a chance to get level with Krishna for the golden boot spot and he was never going to let it go. He emphatically dispatched the spot kick, sending Amrinder the wrong way by opening his body one side and shooting the other to give Goa a well-deserved lead.
FC Goa grew in confidence after scoring with Ortiz causing further problems for Mandar. Mumbai managed to create their first chance with Boumous playing Ogbeche through who went for a powerful near post drive on his weak foot that was well saved by Dheeraj Singh. Seriton Fernandes, understood to be already struggling with injury before the game, pulled up while chasing Ogbeche and had to be replaced by local-lad Leander, who made his ISL debut.
Ortiz continued to dazzle as he glided past a couple of players and spotted a free Romario on the right who only had to play it square to Angulo for Goa to double their lead but failed to do so.
Goa were left ruing their missed chances when the Islanders equalised in the 38th minute. Jahouh took a quick free kick to find Boumous in some space who dribbled past Bedia and tried to play it to Le Fondre but a lucky deflection brought a bouncing ball back to Boumous. There was nothing lucky about the finish though as the Frenchman hit a brilliant volley to draw Mumbai back level. Largely anonymous in the game prior to his goal, it only took a moment for Boumous to prove why you just can’t keep a match winner like him out. Questions must be asked of the Goa defence who did not come out charging to block him from shooting.
Things didn’t get easier for the official with another penalty shout for FC Goa getting turned down as Ortiz went between Mandar and Jahouh inside the box. Replays showed the faintest of contact so the decision could have gone either way.
The half ended with another chance for the Islanders when Bipin Singh found Ogbeche with a cross. The striker did well to get a glancing header that was excellently kept out by young Dheeraj vindicating his recent India call up.
The beginning of the second half was in sharp contrast to that of the first with Mumbai taking the onus early on and Goa looking to counter. The first opportunity went Mumbai’s way when James Donachie’s partial clearance found Boumous who put it on a plate for Ogbeche but he blasted his effort over the bar from a few yards out. One of those days for the striker.
Mandar, who seemed like a square peg in a round hole for the majority of the game, made his first positive contribution when he found Ogbeche with a cross that the striker got force behind but couldn’t hit the target.
Goa had their first real chance at the hour mark when Gama went on a marauding run from just outside his own half using Ortiz as a decoy and wrapped it up with an excellent finish into the bottom corner from outside the box. Lobera will certainly be disappointed with the amount of space given to Gama.
Mumbai responded almost instantly with Jahouh picking out Fall with a cross that he glanced into the back of the net becoming the all time highest scoring defender of the ISL in the process. Goa’s defence was caught ball watching yet again as four Mumbai players were lining up unmarked for Jahouh’s cross.
The tempo of the game slowed down heading into the final quarter with both sides content to take things as it is to the next leg.
It was surprising to see no changes until the 75th minute from either side apart from the forced replacement of Seriton. The need to freshen things up coupled with Ogbeche having an off day made Goddard odds-on to replace him but Lobera decided otherwise. Similarly, it was expected that super-sub Ishan Pandita would be given a run out towards the end but he only came on after the 90th minute.
A flat ending was never on the cards given the course of the game and drama ensued in the final minutes when Fall got away with a two-footed dangerous challenge on Princeton with just a booking. Fall could and should have gone from hero to villain but was spared by yet another dubious decision from the referee while Princeton is reportedly out for a month due to the harm caused by Fall’s challenge.
Goa will be feeling aggrieved as a sending off would have completely altered the course of the tie. The removal of the away goals rule means the tie heads into the second leg level
While Goa will be boosted by the return of Noguera and Ivan in the next leg, injuries to Princeton and Bedia will surely hamper their flow. Ranawade’s return will bring back some balance to Mumbai’s defence and Lobera might be tempted to change personnel as well.
With all to play for, the second leg promises to be an absolute cracker in what is likely to be a tie decided by fine margins. For the neutrals, if it can pick up from where it left off in the first leg, we are in for a treat.