"We made a lot of mistakes and we played with low intensity. We did not concentrate and it is right that today we lost. We will learn from this loss and pick ourselves up. I'm not happy with the way we played today because we played with low intensity, which is not our way to play. And North East United FC today was very fast and they concentrated well, and now we have to learn from this loss because the semis will be tough for us."
And this is how Gianluca Zambrotta summed up an underwhelming display by Delhi Dynamos. The visiting side never really got going at the Indira Gandhi Stadium in Guwahati on Wednesday night. With NEUFC needing at least a draw from the encounter, it was clear which side had something riding on the match.
For most of the night, the Dynamos were second best. If anything, the match brought to light the issues Zambrotta continues to battle. As the semi-finals are around the corner, a short-term fix is the best solution. With the final round of matches to go, the Dynamos, it must be said, possess the third-worst defence in the competition if measured by goals conceded. Zambrotta's men have let 17 goals in this season.
However, before Wednesday's encounter, the Italian manager had refused to identify the defence as a problem. Instead, he claimed that conceding so many goals was a result of the team's attacking intent. It is true that the Dynamos are the most effective side going forward. But more work needs to be done on the side's attack-to-defence transitions.
The frailties were made obvious in the 1-2 loss to NEUFC. It was only the third time the Dynamos finished on the losing side this season; all three reverses have come away from home. It is a record that must cause some worry to Zambrotta. But one suspects Wednesday's result will be viewed differently since Dynamos had booked their spot in the semi-final ahead of the match.
The visiting side made an unusual start to the encounter. The Dynamos saw a lot of the ball and finished the half with 64 percent possession. But for all its efforts, it had only one chance to show - a one-on-one opportunity for Richard Gadze that was fluffed with trademark profligacy. Despite scoring 27 times this season, only a third of those goals have come in the first half for the Dynamos.
The game turned on the hour mark when a long ball by Didier Zokora caught the visitors' defence out. Seityasen Singh outran Souvik Chakraborty, who had moved to left-back for accommodating Lalchhawnkima on the other flank, and Kean Lewis. Toni Doblas, the other change to the Dynamos starting eleven in Soram Poirei's place, made a poor judgment by rushing out of his goal and the ball drifted past him.
Eleven minutes later, another long ball was won by NEUFC in the opposition half. Robert Cullen put Romaric through with a delightful ball and that was the game for the host. With NEUFC only requiring a draw to keep itself in the contention for the playoffs, a two-goal lead in the second half was as good an insurance as any.
The Dynamos, however, pulled a goal back through tournament top-scorer Marcelinho. The Brazilian took advantage of some lax defending to slam a fine shot home from a tight angle. But no dramatic comeback was in store.
With the defeat on Wednesday, the Dynamos are no longer the best side in the competition. If the current table-topper Mumbai City are able to best Zambrotta's side on Saturday, the latter could even slip to fourth by the end of the league phase. Zambrotta himself addressed the issue in his post-match comments.
"It is very difficult to say which will be our position, second, third fourth or first. If we continue to play like we played today, we will finish fourth position but... If we start to play in a different way with more intensity, then we will be able to decide ourselves as to where we will be finishing."
A win, certainly, will ensure that the Dynamos finish as the best side in the league table. It is a tag that will not arouse criticism from many. After all, Zambrotta's men have often played as the undisputed leader of the competition.
But with a place in the playoffs confirmed, it is imperative that the Dynamos do not let the momentum slip. Even though these last few matches are inconsequential, it would not help the side's morale if they approached the semis on the back of a couple of losses. It is not about which team will meet the Dynamos in the semi-final. If anything, the indication has been that Zambrotta's men can best any opponent in the Indian Super League (ISL). Rather, it is about keeping their high standards intact. Anything less than that is likely to produce the kind of failure we witnessed on Wednesday.