For a season that has seen tight fixtures with unyielding scorelines, this one was expected to bring goals and entertainment. With both sides missing defensive stalwarts in Ivan Gonzales and Enes Sipovic, fireworks were expected even before the match started.
And boy, did it deliver. Don’t let the ‘2-1’ fool you, the affair was as lively as the semi-finals between the two sides last season.
It took only 180 seconds for the ball to reach agonizingly close to the net, much to the dismay of Chennai fans. Fast forward a minute and a half, and the Supermachans were struck with a feeling of deja vu. They say lightning doesn’t strike twice, but tonight it did. A Brazilian standing over a corner, the defending team in orange and a goal that can only be described as sublime. 6 years ago it was Bruno Pelissari against Delhi Dynamos, tonight it was Rafael Crivellaro against Goa. The ball swung inwards and over everyone’s head, sailing right into the edge of the side-netting. 1-0 to Chennaiyin FC.
But FC Goa weren’t ones to sulk. They retaliated instantly through Jorge Ortiz began his run from the left and slalomed past Deepak Tangri. He then went on to deliver a delicate through ball to Romario, which found the latter in the box. The youngster returned the favor and squared it right into Ortiz’s path. A powerful shot saw the ball bolt into the top corner like an arrow. Goa came to level terms and both teams were gunning for 3 points.
The following half hour was as entertaining as it was nervy. In the 25th minute, Crivellaro crossed the ball across the face of goal, and found Fatkhullo. A first time cut-back laid the ball on a platter for Chhangte – waiting to be smashed into the roof of the net. In an attempt to place it, the ball ended up coming off his shin and went well above the bar.
A quick progression from the left in the 42nd minute saw a similar event take place. A grounded cross from Jerry was poorly stopped by Nawaz and the ball bounced towards Chhangte. The goal was at his mercy. On a night where lightning struck twice, Chhangte couldn’t. Yet another effort to nestle the ball went well over the bar.
The first half left both sides with much to rue. The Gaurs controlled the tempo and possession, but lacked in creativity. Meanwhile Chennai were laser sharp with their counters but couldn’t make it count.
The second half saw Enes Sipovic come on for Deepak Tangri, and Rahim Ali come on for Fatkhullo. Chennai resumed just the way they ended the first half – by missing a sitter. This time, the roles had reversed. Captain Crivellaro was the culprit, and Chhangte was the one who was let down. A sumptuous through ball from Thapa released Chhangte into the box. A cut-back to the Brazilian number 10 only required a precise finish. The ball blazed over the goal, and at this point it was a mystery how Chennai weren’t in the lead.
Following this, FC Goa decided to make some of their own noise. Brandon Fernandes received the ball and outside the box and let loose a curling effort marked for the bottom corner. Vishal Kaith was equal to it and punched the ball away for a corner.
Just as Goa started to assert themselves, a costly error from James Donachie in the 52nd minute gave Chennai their salvation. A poor first touch from the Australian prompted Jakub Sylvestr to capitalize and steal the ball. A first time pass saw Crivellaro get into the box, albeit with Donachie to beat. He twisted and turned to find an inch of space. Eventually, he got what he wanted and somehow managed to square it to a poorly-marked Rahim Ali. A simple tap-in gave Chennai the lead they were craving for.
A mere six minutes later, we got our contentious call of the night. For an evening which could be otherwise seen as well refereed, this one decision cast a damper over the case. Ortiz skillfully chipped the ball over Sipovic and unexpectedly managed to keep it in play. In a wild attempt to reach the ball, Vishal Kaith took out Ortiz in the box. While an argument can be made about a Goan player not being able to reach Ortiz’s desperate pass, Ferrando and his men certainly did not subscribe to this idea.
The match continued with the same flow – Goa trying to stretch and probe the Marina Machans, and Chennaiyin FC wanting to catch Goa on the counter. In the 77th minute, Chhangte completed his hat-trick of howlers. Rahim Ali, who had been a live-wire since his substitution, set up Chhangte for an angled one-on-one with Nawaz. One would expect players to finish from such a position, but Chhangte shot wide to cap off his erroneous night.
The following 18 minutes saw a frenzy of orange attacking a resolute blue defence. Goa left only three men behind and flooded Chennai’s half. But the two-time champions stood firm. They reduced FC Goa to playing wide and crossing the ball in, much like they had earlier in the night. As time ticked away, Goa’s frustration grew but in vain.
While both sides ran their socks off, it was the viewer’s eye that covered the most distance thanks to the end-to-end action. The final score ended 2-1 in Chennai’s favor which brings both sides to equal points on the table. Although Goa’s goal tally places them above Chennai, the Machans have played a game less.