Margoa: John Stiven Mendoza didn't touch the ball for the first 10 minutes of the Indian Super League final between Chennaiyin FC and FC Goa at the Fatorda Stadium. When he got near it, he either fell, slipped or cried foul for no reason. Then, in a moment of genius, he tap-danced around the ball, played a lovely one-two with his strike partner Jeje Lalpekhlua and almost scored from the layoff. It was the first of many times that Goa goalkeeper Laxmikant Kattimani would thwart the Colombian.Hero of the League: Chennaiyin FC's Stiven Mendoza is the ISL's bonafide superstar
As the match progressed, Mendoza crept into the game. He was completely marked out from his favourite left flank by Bikramjit Singh and Pronay Halder in the first half. Then, he moved to a slightly central role and started sprinting in bursts around Goa's defenders. The first of his most meaningful runs saw him bundled in the penalty box by Halder.
The foul resulted in a penalty which Bruno Pelissari scored. Once Goa had pulled a goal back, Mendoza's approach to the game changed. He started showing his flair. He collected a long ball expertly, flicked it with his heel over a defender and chased it relentlessly. Kattimani came off his line, but Mendoza beat him, dangled a little bit of leg and won another penalty. He stepped up for it and missed. Kattimani had won every battle against Mendoza on the night till then.
But then the keeper started taunting him at every opportunity. Mendoza said after the press conference that his attitude at that time was simple: "I was getting a lot of balls from my teammates and kept calm, took a breath and believed in myself. After missing the penalty, I had the confidence to stand up and win."
It is in this face of adversity that Mendoza thrives.
After Chennaiyin equalised through a Kattimani own goal, the tables had turned. The Corinthians loanee ran onto a Jayesh Rane through ball, half sped and half muscled past the towering Gregory Arnolin and Lucio, and slipped the ball into the net with unreal precision -- it was past 90 minutes on the clock.
Mendoza had surely won it for Marco Materazzi's side... again.
Chennaiyin, who went from rock-bottom to semifinals to champions, riding on of a five-match winning streak late in the closing stages of the league and in the semi-final first leg -- owe much to Mendoza. Out of the 13 goals he scored in the ISL, six came in these five games. He's a big-game player, and he came back to life after being dropped for an important match by Materazzi. It seems to be a technique which has worked wonders. You threaten Mendoza, and he answers with stunning capacity.
There is also no doubt about his pedigree, at least in the ISL. In fact, it's safe to say he is the league's biggest star -- the most talented player, who can lift his team with individual shows of brilliance. No defence has really been able to cope with his pace, trickery and eye for goal. If he doesn't score, he will lay on a terrific pass or continuously threaten the defence to a point that it breaks down. He has taken the most number of shots in the ISL -- 53 -- and has scored from 24.5 percent of those. That means he scores once with every fourth attempt at goal -- a remarkable rate.
What makes Mendoza special is that he's being noticed in the ISL. After last season's stint, when he scored four goals in nine appearances, he was snapped up by Corinthians. He openly admits he is one of the few players to have benefitted from a move to India: "Last year, playing in India helped me getting a better team and league (than I was playing in). I thank Chennaiyin for bringing me here and giving me confidence to go elsewhere. The Indian stint got me motivation and skills to play in Brazil," he said after the final.
It's the other way round though. India should thank him for agreeing to come here and play -- not only does he make the league richer to watch within the country, but surely gets it noticed around the world.
Updated Date: Dec 21, 2015 15:27 PM