ISL 2023/24 – Advantage Mumbai City after injury-time heroics stun FC Goa in first leg of the semi-final

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In an Indian Super League (ISL) semi-final first leg that managed to surpass its lofty pre-match expectations, Mumbai City emerged victorious after turning the game around in 90th-minute injury time. FC Goa, urged on by 17,000 at the Fatorda, held a comfortable 2-0 lead with only a few minutes to full-time, but a remarkable late surge from the Islanders saw the result get flipped on its head. The final scoreline read 2-3 in favour of the visitors and Peter Kratky’s men will welcome the Gaurs with a one-goal advantage during the second leg in Mumbai on the 29th of April.

Mumbai

Both Goa and Mumbai City came into the fixture on the back of two very successful league campaigns. While FC Goa fell out of the premiership race following a mid-season slump, they finished the league strong with four consecutive wins and seven games unbeaten. The 2-1 play-off victory over Chennaiyin on Saturday, which brought them to the semi-finals, only added to their stupendous form and confidence.

Meanwhile, Mumbai City were in pole position to defend their ISL Shield but a loss to Mohun Bagan in the final matchweek saw the Mariners supersede them by a singular point. Despite the setback, the Islanders have done well to remain one of the ISL’s dominant sides despite the departure of head coach Des Buckingham in the middle of the campaign. Well-rested and seeking reprisal, Mumbai City hoped to start their ISL knockout stage run on a high.

The game kicked off in front of a riveting Goa atmosphere and the Gaurs fed off it to open the scoring in the 16th minute. Mohammad Yasir capitalised on a Mehtab Singh error and delivered a fine cross for Boris Singh to tap in at the back stick. The young Manipuri winger has scored three of his nine ISL goals against the Islanders.

Following the goal, Mumbai monopolized possession, slowly building out of the back and working the ball from side to side until they could find an opening. However, the Goan defence stood strong and the Islanders found limited headway.

Lallianzuala Chhangte was the most influential player in Mumbai’s three-pronged attack, creating multiple chances with dummies, crosses and cutbacks. Fine opportunities fell to Valpuia and Rahul Bheke but neither was able to level the scoreline.

Despite enjoying limited possession, Goa had a couple of half-chances of their own. Noah Sadaoui narrowly missed the target after a swivelling effort from the edge of the box and Borja Herrera steered an effort wide following a promising progression.

Mumbai

Mumbai City started the second half with relentless pressure, pursuing the equalizer with great energy. For a few minutes, Goa could hardly get out of their half, but that early intensity quickly subsided. Soon, the hosts found their footing and in the 56th minute Brandon Fernandes speared a right-footed strike past Phurba Lachenpa, giving Goa a two-goal cushion.

With their hopes of a comeback deflated, Mumbai began losing grip of their dominance and composure. The Islanders looked happy to hold on and take the battle to home turf. In contrast, the Gaurs were upping the energy, as if the adrenaline from the Chennai victory had not yet dissipated.

In the 78th minute, Udanta Singh had the chance to put the game to bed, when the ball fell kindly to him at the top of the penalty area. However, his deflected effort was met by a strong reactionary left hand from Lachenpa. This extraordinary save would go on to have more meaning in the final stages of the contest.

At the stroke of the 90th minute, the game took a defining turn. Substitute Jayesh Rane found Chhangte with a defence-splitting through ball and the latter nimbly avoided the onrushing goalkeeper and found the net. Eighty seconds later, with the help of two youngsters, the Islanders found themselves the equalizer. Another substitute, this time Gurkirat Singh, fired a shot on target and Vikram Partap Singh was on hand to tap home the rebound. Suddenly, a Fatorda crowd that had sung and danced all evening long fell silent.

Unfortunately for the hosts, the match had another cruel twist for them. The initial goal combination – Rane and Chhangte – worked its magic once more, in the 96th minute, to give the Islanders a famous winner. While the visitors slid on their bellies to celebrate an improbable comeback, the Gaurs fell to their knees in fatigue and dismay. The final whistle was blown almost immediately after the restart.

Mumbai

The match not only provided drama characteristic of high-profile sport but also symbolised a significant change of culture in the ISL. While the league began in 2014 with the showcasing of marquee international players, Mumbai City played the final few minutes (and scored all three goals) with only Indian players on the field. For Kratky to trust his domestic players at such a pivotal point in the season is a testament to how far Indian football has come since the inception of the ISL.

The turnaround came completely against the run of play and a Mumbai City side that seemed down and out for much of the second half will enter the second-leg in pole position. The Gaurs, who had won the past 21 games at home when leading at halftime, will have to overcome the trauma of this loss quickly, so they can put their best foot forward at the Mumbai Football Arena on Monday. Both camps will also be anxiously waiting for updates on key players Akash Mishra and Mohammad Yasir, both of whom were taken off in the first half due to injuries.


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Sriram Chidambaram
Sriram Chidambaramhttp://iftwc.com
A sports tragic, whose obsession percolates into the obscure world of Indian Football. My affiliations lie with the Blue Tigers, BFC, Servette, and Chelsea (in that order).

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