Corners, in modern football, are an intriguing statistical conundrum – while they may not have an overwhelming contribution to number of goals scored, they are often an indication of a team’s dominance in the attacking third. Atletico de Kolkata had nine corners to their opponent’s four in the first half of their 2-1 win over FC Goa at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Fatorda.
Seven of those nine corners came in a fifteen minute spell during which Jose Molina’s side showcased some of the finest football it has played this season. The Atletico manager had opined how his team will play “an aggressive brand of football” ahead of the season, but seldom has Atletico set the pulses racing on the pitch.
Atletico almost got on the scoresheet with the first corner of the game – as the clearance fell to Abinash Ruidas who manoeuvred the ball into the eighteen yard box for Stephen Pearson to get off an early shot, Javier Lara’s shot on the rebound was parried away by Laxmikanth Kattimani.
Minutes later, Lara’s shot from the edge of the penalty area would once again test the Gaurs keeper. Atletico have often been guilty of letting their foot off the pedal when they have had the upper hand but they were relentless against a fumbling FC Goa side.
Atletico starved Zico’s side off ball possession for long spells of play and were allowed the time and space to patiently build-up from the back. Richarlyson Felisbino and Trindade Goncalves rarely challenged for the second ball and allowed Atletico to bypass the Goan midfield with absolute ease. The fact that Felisbino completed only 33 passes as compared to Pearson’s 58 and Borja’s 71 sums up Atletico’s midfield supremacy on the night.
Atletico’s goal in the 28th minute was as much due to Goa’s lacklustre pressing as it was to Abinash Ruidas’ individual brilliance. The youngster has been the most promising among all of Atletico’s young midfielders and was a force to reckon with on the left flank against the Gaurs.
The 22-year-old initially drew away FC Goa right-back Keenan Almeida with his movement, allowing Robert Lalthlamuana to go on an overlapping run and forcing Gregory Arnolin to vacant his position. With Rafael Dumas isolated against Helder Postiga and Juan Belencoso in the six-yard box, Ruidas then belted in an inch-perfect cross for the 35-year-old Spaniard to head into the back of the net.
Iain Hume’s injury had compelled Jose Molina to start Belencoso and Postiga in the last two matches and the Kolkata-based club has looked a completely different outfit on the offensive aspect. As opposed to the Canadian who relies on his movement between the channels to get into goalscoring positions, Belencoso is a traditional target man who keeps the centre-backs occupied – in turn, providing Helder Postiga with necessary room just outside the opposition penalty area to influence play.
Atletico, unlike their previous matches, did not sit back once Belencoso broke the deadlock with Stephen Pearson’s shot blocked soon after and Postiga hitting the post at the 40th minute. Such was Atletico’s leverage over the middle third of the pitch that Romeo Fernandes and Mandar Dessai were completely isolated on the wings, while Joffre Mateu and Rafael Coelho had to drop down deep into their own half to recirculate the ball.
On the rare occasions when Goa had the ball, their exuberance did not convert into efficiency in the final third. The Atletico backline held its shape well and finding no way through the central channel, the Gaurs were forced to move the ball wide.
“This is the first team I have managed which is so disorganised. I felt disrespected. I give my players the freedom inside and outside the pitch. I put them in positions to help them and when I don't see it on the field its bad,” a despondent Zico summarised FC Goa’s campaign when asked what he thought of his team’s inability to compete with Atletico in the first half.
The Gaurs were much more proactive in the second half, especially with Robin Singh’s substitution providing Zico’s side with a genuine threat to keep the Atletico centre-halves busy. It seemed Atletico had once again succumbed to familiar mistakes when they conceded yet another late goal.
Romeo Fernandes and Mandar Dessai, the two young turks, were at the heart of every goalscoring chance Zico’s side created. Dessai eventually equalised at the 80th minute with a magnificent individual goal – a reflection of the sheer talent in the FC Goa squad which has failed so colossally this season.
Atletico seemed to be heading into their fourth draw in as many games when substitute Sameehg Doutie orchestrated two glorious counter-attacking moves down the right channel. The South African hit the bar on the first occasion but found Stephen Pearson at the 90th minute mark – the Scot calmly slotting it into the back of the net to inflict the seventh loss of the season on FC Goa and eliminating them from the race for the knock-outs.
Heading into their final two matches with eighteen points in bag, Atletico have a foot in the semifinals but they must overcome their home ground blues (Molina’s side have won only one of their five home matches this season) to ensure they don’t have to rely on results of other teams for knockout qualification.