One step forward, two steps back. Such is the reality that meets FC Goa in the eye. After turning a corner in the past two matches, Zico's men returned home and undid all the good work. They suffered the fourth defeat in six matches, and both their matches at home have resulted in a 1-2 losses. Both defeats have seen Goa conceding a late goal. There are no home comforts for Zico and his charges.
However, unlike the reverse at home to FC Pune City earlier, FC Goa deserved to lose against Kerala Blasters on Monday. There was little of the initiative that stood out in Goa's display against Pune. Instead, the hosts looked lost going forward. The fragility of the Goa defence, which dogged the team in its first three matches, was visible against Kerala too.
Kerala, on the other hand, who had nearly a week to prepare for the match, dominated the proceedings. They were first to the ball, occupied the opposition half and passed the ball around with a clear plan. They sought to catch Goa off-guard with their pace, constantly dragging the opposition players out of position.
"I was not surprised because they had a lot of rest days, I knew they would press us, it was the game we were expecting; so this was not the reason we lost the game," said Zico after the match. But then, why did Goa lose the match?
In the previous match against Mumbai City FC, Zico was impressed with his team's defending. He had shifted to a three-man backline, as out-of-form marquee player Lucio was not considered for the starting eleven. The change had brought Goa its first clean sheet of the season. But on Monday, the defence struggled to impose itself on the match.
In fact, Goa was fortunate to lead at halftime. Blasters dominated the first 45 minutes but fell behind to a Julio Cesar header midway through the period. It was a rare foray by the hosts but enough to separate the sides. The Blasters, however, were hardly cowed down by the goal. They continued to press Goa and create chances. It was just the Blasters' profligacy that kept the hosts ahead.
Zico, however, was watching a different match. In his post-match comments, the Brazilian manager said his team's first-half display was good. However, there was little evidence of a coherent strategy working for Goa in that period.
In fact, it was Zico's halftime change that arguably had a significant bearing on the match. Jofre Mateu was taken off at the interval, apparently due to a fitness problem, and Lucio took his place. Jofre has the ability to stretch the opposition in the final third by finding pockets of space on the flanks, something the marquee player does not possess as part of his skill set. Lucio, rather, sat centrally to provide cover as Goa sought to protect its lead.
The advantage was, however, wiped out within seconds as the Blasters equalised almost immediately after the interval. It changed the complexion of the match as Goa was forced to come out and attack again. In a contest between the two bottom-placed sides in the league, a draw held little value for both of them. In the end, the Blasters took three points home.
However, that was not before Zico had unleashed the pair of Romeo Fernandes and Mandar Rao Dessai as substitutes. The Brazilian manager has been hesitant to field both of them since last season after a couple of thrashing defeats, but the current situation forced his hand. While their introduction did little to help Goa going forward, it allowed more space for interventions by the Blasters.
The room allowed to Kervens Belfort for the winning goal highlighted the issue. The Haitian midfielder had space to run at Goa's defenders who curiously stood off him. Belfort took advantage of the opportunity by beating Goa goalkeeper Subhasish Roy Chowdhury at the near post. The way the goal came about surmised the fragility of the Goa side. Not just defensively, the team is currently losing the psychological battle as well.
The shocking nature of the defeat was echoed in Zico's comments after the match as well.
"I want to apologise to all the fans, we could not deliver the best result but we still have quite a few matches ahead of us, if we can win at least two matches quickly our situation will improve. I don't want to make comparisons between this team and last year's team. There is a lot of difference. We had problems building this team since the beginning, so there should not be comparisons with last year's team."
Certainly, FC Goa's pre-season preparation and recruitment did not go as planned. But a meagre haul of four points from six matches is remarkably low. Zico remains adamant that he can turn things around. After all, Goa had recovered from winning just once in the first seven matches during the inaugural season of the ISL.
Zico reckoned that wins in the next two matches will change the narrative of failure. It most certainly will. But in the current period of distress, a swift turnaround does not seem within Goa's grasp. Time is running out for Zico and his men.
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Updated Date: Oct 25, 2016 12:13:45 IST