New Delhi: It's an old and overused cliche that pictures speak louder than words. It was used one more time on Tuesday night, by Mumbai City FC manager Alexandre Guimares, who said as much when asked to comment about the quality of refereeing in his side's Indian Super League (ISL) 2016 match against Delhi Dynamos. "I don't have a lot to say. Images show more than I can say," a seemingly disappointed Guimaraes said at the post-match conference.
And while we're on the topic of cliches, let's use one more — luck plays a crucial role in sports. And if you agree with Guimaraes and go by the pictures, Mumbai were unlucky to miss out on all three points at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi.
A wrong offside call which resulted in a goal; a soft penalty decision going against them; a shot rattling the woodwork in the dying minutes of the game. It was just not Mumbai's day.
At the half-way stage, Mumbai were cruising with a 2-0 lead. Moreover, they had almost entirely dominated the first half. Delhi's defence was clueless at times, outclassed by some wonderful football by Mumbai. The visitors' forward line was electric, Sony Norde a menace on the left wing, while Matias Defederico and Leo Costa combined to create some glorious chances. The tireless Krisztian Vadocz was the the best player on the field. It was a perfect half from Mumbai, and Delhi looked a pale shadow of their former selves.
However, it all changed in the 51st minute. Delhi's left back David Addy's brilliant long pass sent Marcelinho through. The Brazilian squared it up for Richard Gadze to tap it in. It looked an impressive move, but replays showed that Marcelinho was offside by a mile and even Gadze looked offside. Two refeering mistakes in one goal!
Putting the disappointment behind, Mumbai regrouped, but finishing still remained a concern. Then came another blow, as Costa, who was playing well until then, had to be taken off after an injury. The excellent Norde, who deserved a goal more than anybody else, finally got one in the 69th minute and Mumbai had their two-goal cushion again. It was an impressive move, which saw an astute dink from the substitute Otacílio Brito Alves aka Cafu, and a superbly placed finish from Norde.
Delhi, however, bounced back immediately. Substitute Badara Badji got on the scoresheet seven minutes later. Delhi had changed their formation, going from 4-3-3 to 4-2-4.
With 10 minutes to go, the referee provided more drama. Badji's back-header from a long ball fell in the path of the lively Gadze, who scythed forward with all his muscular power, shrugged off defender Lucian Goian with his physical strength and moved forward. Mumbai 'keeper Roberto Volpato — his eyes firmly on the ball — charged forward to pouch, but Gadze, after a slight loss of balance, recovered to head the ball on the bounce and ended up bouncing into the 'keeper. Gadze went down too easily; the keeper tried to restrain himself after the force he had gathered on the run, and there was just the slightest of unintentional touches. But the referee blew his whistle for a penalty, leaving the Mumbai players dumbfounded. Marcelinho stepped up to thump it into the net. From 2-0 to 3-1 to 3-3. It was a dramatic turnaround, but two out of the three Delhi goals had come in controversial circumstances.
After all the heartbreak, Mumbai still had the firepower to charge ahead for a winner, but luck again eluded them — Defederico danced past defenders and hit a powerful low shot from outside the box. But given the luck that Mumbai were having on the night, even if someone had pointed the back of the net out to the ball, there was no way it was not going to hit the woodwork!
Not many managers would come out and praise their team after squandering a two-goal cushion twice in the match. But Guimaraes said he was happy with Mumbai's effort.
"We had a fantastic game," the Mumbai City FC manager said in the post-match conference. "The rivals also came out to play. We are disappointed. The objective of the ISL is to have games like these — an offensive and open game, with 22 players playing their hearts out to get a result. I am very proud of what my team is doing. We are still there on top," he added.
Delhi coach Gianluca Zambrotta and Gadze, however, dead-batted the question when it was put to them. "For me, it's a refereeing decision, I can't say anything about it," Gadze said.
"I don't want to speak about the referee. Referees are human. Sometimes they can make mistakes. We should respect the job and effort they put in. Sometimes, the decisions can go either way. Not our place to question," coach Zambrotta added.
While Mumbai can blame their luck, they also have to blame the poor quality of finishing for the two dropped points. Though they scored three goals, they missed out on some very good chances, which would have killed the game. Costa hit one wide from close range in the very first minute of the game. Six minutes later, Norde found ample space at the edge of the box, but hit a weak shot straight at the 'keeper. Anwar Ali then headed another shot at Soram Poirei despite achieving a good leap to connect with a corner. Costa provided a lovely diagonal aerial ball to Ralte down the left, but the left back's shot was too meet to trouble Poirei. Ali was then at it again, and headed one wide off an intriguing cross from Defederico. Norde then made a blistering run down the left flank in the 59th minute and provided a teasing cut back, but Costa made a mess of it and Defederico followed suit. In all, Mumbai had 16 shots in the game, seven on target and nine off it.
Guimares defended the finishing, saying the chances created were 50-50 and that the team is heading in the right direction. "This is football. What's important for us is to have a system where players can express themselves. We went there to play an attacking game, to create and to give the players the chance to play their natural game. This is football. We had 50-50 chances today, but we have to just know that we are going in the right direction," he said at the post-match conference.
While finishing was a problem, there were some silver linings too for Mumbai, as Defederico got the much-needed support from the forwards and the midfield. Norde chipped in with a goal and Krisztian Vadocz showed great positional sense and made clever runs to score two goals.
It was an entertaining game for the neutral, but a disappointing one for Mumbai. While luck was admittedly not on their side, they could have done better had they finished their chances better.