A fairy-tale finish: How Chennaiyin FC rose from bottom of the table to ISL champions
Down and almost out after a string of losses midway through the tournament, Chennaiyin FC showed resilience to turn it around and seal the ISL Season 2 title
In a match worthy of the final, Chennaiyin FC took the lead, fell behind and then staged a stunning comeback in the dying stages to lift the ISL trophy at the Fatorda last night. In more ways than one the match was a microcosm of Chennaiyin’s entire season — a slow hesitant start, bursts of brilliance, hopeless loss of form and then an improbable, bullish run to blow everyone off their feet. Here a snapshot of Chennaiyin FC performance in ISL-2 which culminated in a thrilling 3-2 win against hosts FC Goa.
The slow start
Before the season began, some astute transfers meant Chennaiyin FC were among the most balanced squads and was rightly given the favourites tag.
Two things probably went against them. Burden of expectations and too many new faces in the playing XI. The team started the new season on a wrong note with two defeats. The move of keeping Elano in the centre seemed to be ineffectual. Elano, it seemed, was too eager to do all on his own. The team needed new inspiration.
Bursts of brilliance with growing attacking solidity
Chennaiyin then came up with a change in formation with an unfamiliar two banks of four with Elano and Mendoza up front. This led to a run of five games which gave Chennaiyin 3 wins, a defeat and a draw. Barring the game against NorthEast United FC (where they reverted to earlier formation), the attack seemed to click together with striker John Stiven Mendoza scoring a brilliant hat-trick against FC Goa. With six goals from five games, Mendoza was well on his way for the Golden Boot. This run also established Raphael Augusto as the central midfield lynchpin for Chennaiyin. He controlled the midfield and provided an extra thrust and creativity which was a refreshing change and a dependable alternative for Elano.
Down and almost out
Chennaiyin’s old nemesis — their defense — came unstuck to pull them to the bottom. They suffered three defeats and conceded six goals. Not just the number but the timing and manner in which they conceded that was really demoralising. The attack also seemed out of steam returning a meagre two goals. Profligacy and Murphy’s law caught up with them.
The bullish run
The next seven games saw Chenniyin win six and suffer an inconsequential loss against Atletico de Kolkata in the second leg of the semifinals. The highlight in the first of those four games has been how the team functioned as a unit. Firstpost already covered that in detail. With Atletico de Kolkata looming, Chennaiyin were dealt a serious blow in the form of suspensions for captain Elano Blumer and defender Mehrajuddin Wadoo.
The team brushed off their absence nonchalantly and pretty much killed the tie in the first-leg with an eventually unassailable 3-0 lead. When Atletico de Kolkata threw everything at them in the second leg, they withstood the pressure and even nicked an away goal to seal the berth in the final. Apoula Edel Bete — the bedrock on whom the entire comeback was built — coming to the fore again.
Sunday's grand finale showcased this never ending resilience in the face of adversity that Chennaiyin displayed through this tournament.
Ahmed Jahouh, Bipin Singh and Jorge Diaz got their names on the score-sheet for the Islanders, while Parthib Gogoi scored his first goal for NorthEast United FC
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