Week 17, the penultimate act of what has been a marathon league phase of the Indian Super League has put the competition on the cusp of a nail-biting finale with five teams battling it out for the remaining two semi-final spots.
Last week's results mean the race for the top four remains wide open and everything hinges on the happenings in the final round of matches. The added incentive of direct qualification for the Super Cup has further complicated matters. Only Bengaluru FC and FC Pune City have ensured qualification for the semi-finals ahead of the final week, but the latter still have work to do to cement themselves in the second position that they currently occupy.
As teams get their mathematics right ahead of a the decisive week of fixtures, here's a look at the biggest talking points from week 17 that sees the league close in on what has to be a thrilling finish to the league stage.
FC Goa's timely return to form hands them control of their own faith
FC Goa's season appeared to be on a downward spiral after a five-game winless streak saw them slip to seventh position in the standings. However, Sergio Lobera's men brushed off the disappointment of a draw against the lowly Delhi Dynamos to end the week in swashbuckling fashion. A 4-0 win away to second-placed FC Pune City on Sunday was more like a performance the Indian football fraternity had become used to seeing from the Gaurs at the start of the season when they had surged to the league's summit following a series of dominant wins.
The handsome win doesn't just give them the confidence ahead of the crucial week, but also puts their fate firmly in their own hands. Victories in the final two matches will ensure Lobera's men make the line-up for the semi-finals irrespective of results elsewhere.
Goa have been prolific all season long, but their defensive frailties have often left them wanting in certain matches. A clean sheet away from against a team that has already booked a knock-out berth would be solacing for the Goa faithful. With an away tie against the resolute Jamshedpur FC likely to decide their fate, a bit of steel of their own would come very handy for the semi-final chasing FC Goa.
Jamshedpur FC fail to warm up to adopted home
After playing seven home matches in Jamshedpur, the club from Jharkhand decided to shift base to Bhubaneswar for the remaining two home games. However, Steve Coppell's men found the relocation a tad tough as they came unstuck in a 0-2 defeat to leaders Bengaluru FC. The English coach had mentioned him and his players were "happy to play" in the Orissa capital, but his side hardly felt at home at the Kalinga Stadium as Bengaluru dominated for large parts.
The men from the steel city have won just three of their eight home games so far, and it will be a statistic that will need improvement if they are to qualify for the semi-finals. With the home game against FC Goa that is likely to be a must-win one for Jamshedpur, they will have to deliver the goods on their adopted home patch in Bhubaneswar.
Comebacks, late drama aplenty as Mumbai City FC stay alive
Mumbai City FC kept their slim hopes of making it to the semi-finals alive after a thrilling comeback win over NorthEast United at the Mumbai Football Arena on Thursday. Trailing 1-2 to the Highlanders at the interval, Alexander Guimares' men constant probing paid dividends late in the second half as skipper Lucian Goian netted a 90th minute winner after Everton Santos had pulled the hosts level after the restart.
The win on the back of Mumbai's success in Kolkata keeps them in the race for the knockouts. Wins over Delhi Dynamos and Chennaiyin in their next two games could see the Islanders in a strong position to reach the next stage if other results go their way.
In another game, albeit of no consequence in terms of semi-final qualification, Delhi Dynamos came back from 1-3 down to beat ATK. A quick-fire brace from Robbie Keane after the interval had put the defending champions in pole position to pocket the three points, but a triple change by coach Miguel Portugal swung the game back in Delhi's favour. Matias Mirabaje one of the three players to come on netted the winner in the dying minutes to give the Dynamos a rare success this season.
Semi-final scrap intensifies
Victories for Mumbai and Goa, combined with the pale goalless draw between Kerala Blasters and Chennaiyin in Kochi made the scrap for a semi-final place extremely intense going into the final week. With the contestants for the knockout spots squaring off against each other, almost all teams involved in the battle have their faith pretty much in their own hands.
Only Kerala Blasters who failed to get the better of Chennaiyin, will have to heavily depend on results elsewhere to make the semi-finals even if they beat Bengaluru FC in their final game. Goa will be keen to do the job against ATK at Fatorda just to make their clash against Jamshedpur of significant value. Meanwhile Chennaiyin have to fend off Mumbai City's challenge at home to ensure passage to the semis. Mumbai like Goa will have to win their game against Delhi Dynamos to remain in contention till the tie against Chennaiyin comes around.
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Updated Date: Feb 26, 2018 22:39:30 IST