ISL 2017-18: Classy Chennaiyin FC score tactical victory over FC Goa in second leg to qualify for final
It's going to be tough for Chennaiyin FC in the final against Bengaluru FC, but there's no reason why coach John Gregory's tactics won't work again.
In football, there are often instances where a team playing an attractive brand of football doesn't end up winning that particular match. It's not always that they are the deserving winners of the match just because they played eye-pleasing football better than their opponents. Maybe the team lost because their opponents played a better brand of football that was not so attractive but was pragmatic. Something similar happened at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai on Tuesday.
Chennaiyin FC pulled off a tactical masterclass against FC Goa as Jeje Lalpekhlua's brace and Dhanpal Ganesh's goal ensured a 3-0 victory for the hosts in the second-leg of the semi-final. The final aggregate read 4-1 in Chennai's favour and they now have a date with Bengaluru FC for the title on 17 March.
The first-leg ended 1-1 with Goa conceding an away goal. It was pretty much clear going into the second-leg that Goa needed an early goal to put pressure on Chennai. And they did just that. For the first 25 minutes, Goa dominated like they were playing the last 25 seconds of a game that they were losing. Such was the intensity that Goa got as many as six corners in 25 minutes. Goa winger Mandar Rao Dessai got the first chance in the game as early as 11th minute but his low shot was saved by Chennai goalkeeper Karanjit Singh.
Things changed dramatically in the 26th minute. Gregory Nelson put in good cross from the left-wing and an unmarked Jeje calmly headed the ball into the net. A lot was spoken earlier about Jeje's form and his six-game goal drought. He was under pressure going into a big match. But just like his Indian team captain Sunil Chhetri, who did it against FC Pune last Sunday, Jeje ensured he lived up to the expectations in a big match.
Jeje's goal stunned the FC Goa players and before they could recover from the blow, Chennai piled more misery on them by doubling the lead. Just three minutes after scoring the first goal, Jeje won a free-kick on the left. Nelson, once again, whipped in the cross as Dhanpal leaped to perfection to score his team's second goal of the night. With all the domination, FC Goa found themselves trailing by two goals in the first half-hour.
Still hopeful of securing a victory, Goa went for the goals. At that moment, they needed two goals to qualify for the final, provided they stopped Chennaiyin from scoring. Just before the break, Goa's Hugo Boumous ran into the box and passed the ball to Mandar, whose shot was well-saved by Karanjit.
After the break, Goa were expected to go all out but it was the time when Chennai's defence was in its elements. Goa kept putting pressure with a barrage of attacks, but Chennai's rock-solid defence never fluttered. Head coach John Gregory takes immense pride is setting up his team defensively and his work was bearing fruits in the second-half. The likes of Henrique Sereno, Mailson Alves and Inigo Calderon kept blocking Goa's attack with their spot-on positioning and timely tackles. Chennaiyin were successful in breaking Goa's rhythm by fouling them and then defended the set-pieces with gusto.
In the midst of Goa's continuous attacks, Chennai relied on counter-attacks to go ahead. Especially with Nelson and Raphael Augusto, who were always trying to creating something whenever they got ball. Their work rate in the match was immense with both the players also helping the team in defending.
As the match entered the final stages, it was becoming clear that Goa were struggling in breaking Chennai. Their players were frustrated, committing silly fouls and getting aggressive on the referee. Within a span of four minutes, the referee dished out three yellow cards to Goa players.
With less than 25 minutes to go, Goa went close on two occasions. Ahmed Jahouh tried a long-ranger only for Karanjit to palm it above the post. Later, Manuel Lanzarote tried to find the back of the net with a free-kick, but it was again well saved by Karanjit.
The game was put to rest in the 89th minute when Jeje got hold of a deflected pass. He raced ahead beating his defender and showed good composure to slot in his second goal of the night. Jeje's performance will give him great confidence going into the final against Bengaluru FC. To his credit, he gave his 100 percent despite enduring a goal-drought and relief was palpable on his face when the referee blew the final whistle.
For all their attacking prowess, FC Goa failed to deliver when it was most needed. Ferran Corominas and Lanzarote, who scored the bulk of goals for Goa this season, did not make an impact.
Their defence, which was a big concern, also did little to help the team's cause. It was not a night to remember for Goa fans but surely they have the potential to change things around next time if they could manage to keep few key players.
For Chennaiyin, they qualified for the final without much pomp and playing the right kind of game. On Tuesday, they stepped onto the field with a plan. They made sure Goa don't get the upper hand by scoring an early goal. The defenders were on top of the game while Jeje and Co got the goals. But coach Gregory would know that the season's not done yet. They will play their biggest game of the season away from home against Bengaluru, where the atmosphere will be intimidating.
It's going to be tough for Chennaiyin against Bengaluru but there's no reason why Gregory's tactics won't work again.
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The French-Moroccan midfielder Hugo Boumous won ISL Golden Ball last season with 10 goals and 11 assists in 15 appearances.
Ahead of the 2018-19 season, Fall linked up with his former coach Lobera and made the switch to the Indian Super League with FC Goa.
Ahmed Jahouh joined FC Goa in 2017 and became a key fixture for the Gaurs over the next three seasons, making 56 ISL appearances.