The Final Hurdle
After enthralling spectators from all around India, the two-month long football fiesta finally ends today with Chennaiyin FC taking on FC Goa for the title of ISL Champions 2015. It’s been a long road for both of the finalists with Goa having to go through the resilient Delhi Dynamos and Chennai having to survive against the former champions Atletico de Kolkata. The final prospect has turned out to be a mouthwatering encounter between two of the most unpredictable sides in this year’s tournament.
The ISL threw up quite a few surprises on the road to the final two with both the semi-finals opponents FC Goa and Delhi Dynamos as well as Chennaiyin FC and Atletico de Kolkata having played each other in the two opening matches in this year’s ISL. This is one of those fun little facts you find when fate plays its game.
The road to the final has been long and twisted for both of these teams but at the end of the day it’s all worth it. To book a place in the final is an achievement in itself but sadly to the victor will go all the spoils. In the end, history books will remember only the winner of the encounter with the
runner-up fading gradually to the background in the coming years. So, now all that matters is victory because that moment will live on in the collective conscience of the masses as well as the players. For now though, the players of both teams will look to play 90+ minutes of mesmerising football which football fans will be talking about in the years to come.
Now, let’s take a look back at the different journeys that these two teams had to undertake in order to book their berths in the finals. Chennaiyin FC: The Marco Materazzi coached team started the second season of the ISL on the wrong foot going down to defending champions ATK 3-2. Two goals from Atlético de Kolkata’s marquee player Hélder Postiga and a header by super-sub Valdo proved to be enough to see off spirited Chennaiyin FC.The southern outfit didn’t help themselves after defensive errors led to the first two goals for Kolkata before a pinpoint cross from last year’s Hero of the Tournament Iain Hume led to a thumping header by Valdo. Goals from Jeje and Elano would make it 2-1 and 3-2 for the home side. In their second match against Delhi, Chennaiyin would make it two losses in a row after a Chicao penalty inside the opening 10 minutes ensured the Delhi team a 1-0 victory. Chennai would slowly find their groove in the third match of the league they drubbed as FC Goa 0–4 courtesy of the first hat-trick of the season by ace striker Stiven Mendoza. Chennai continued their winning ways against Mumbai beating them, 2-0, but their momentum was soon halted when they lost to North East United FC by the same margin. After that Chennai beat Pune 2-1, played to a 1-1 draw with Kerala Blasters and then losing a string of matches to Goa, North East United and Kolkata. Their turnaround started at the second half of the season when they scored 4 goals against Kerala in a match that they won 4-1 when an early strike by Dhanachandra Singh and a hat-trick by Stiven Mendoza saw them register an important win. Antonio German scored the solitary goal for the Kerala late on in the match. They continued their blistering run of form after scoring 4 against Delhi in the very next match following a brace from Jeje Lalpekhlua and goals from Bruno Pelissari and Stiven Mendoza. This win got them inside the top 4 in the ISL. After scoring 4 in back to back matches, Chennai scored 3 goals against Mumbai as they kept their chances of making the semis alive. Stiven Mendoza opened the scoring before strikes from Jeje Lalpekhlua and Bernard Mendy sealed all three points for the southern-outfit as Mumbai’s remote chances of making the semis came to an end after the 3-0 loss. After beating Pune 1-0 in the last match of the league, stage encounters Chennai booked a much-deserved place in the semis of the tournament. Here their journey would take a new twist as they had to go head to head with defending Champions Kolkata in order to reach the coveted final spot. In a do or die situation Chennaiyin FC put in a clinical performance to beat Atlético de Kolkata 3-0 in the first leg of their semi-final clash. Bruno Pelissari scored a brilliant free-kick in the first half before strikes from Jeje Lalpekhlua and Stiven Mendoza in the second period made it 3-0 for Chennai, handing the southern-outfit a massive advantage for the return leg. In the second leg, Chennai would make it difficult for themselves when they conceded two goals to Kolkata with the defending champions dangerously close to upsetting them and eliminating Chennai from the tournament but a late goal from Fikru would put a dampener in Kolkata’s spirits. Losing the match 2-1, Chennai won the semis with a 4-2 aggregate and marched on to the finals to face FC Goa.
FC Goa: Unlike their final adversary, Goa started the second season on a winning note defeating Delhi 2-0. In a proverbial clash of master vs student between Zico helmed Goa and Roberto Carlos managed Delhi, the former would outclass the latter with two first-half goals. An own goal by Souvik Chakrabarti and a Reinaldo goal would see Goa off to a flying start. They faced Kolkata in their second match and played to a 1-1 draw but would lose to Chennai 4-0 as the southern outfit’s ascendance continued. After that harrowing loss, Goa would pull up their socks and would give a fine display against North East FC who they beat 3-1 courtesy of goals from Jonatan Lucca, Reinaldo and Mandar Rao Dessai. They continued on the winning track against a shambolic Kerala who they beat 2-1thanks to goals from Leo Moura and Gregory Arnolin. These two back to back wins helped them climb all the way back to the top of the league table. The momentum was briefly halted in the next match where they lost to Mumbai 2-0 and then played to a 1-1 draw against Pune. Their turnaround began when they beat Chennai 2-0. Avenging their defeat against Chennai earlier in the season with two second-half penalties from Leo Moura and Jonatan Lucca, they regained their top spot. They failed to win their next against Pune with the match ending on a 2-2 stalemate, but it was their next match against Mumbai that truly signaled their arrival. They routed Sunil Chhetri led Mumbai 7-0, which is the highest score in any ISL game, thus engraving their names forever in Indian sporting lore. Thongkhosiem Haokip and Dudu both scored hat-tricks while Reinaldo scored a late goal to complete Mumbai’s demolition in front of 18,573 spectators. The next match was against ATK and people were expecting a goal fest and a fest is what they got but not the kind that Goa was expecting. Atletico scored 4 past Goa dampening their spirits after that dominant performance against Mumbai. Goa would struggle to reignite their form as they played to a 1-1 draw against North East United and it was not until the next match against Kerala would they find the spark they were lacking. Goa started on the back foot after falling behind under two minutes to a Victor Pulga strike.
However, the Gaurs responded brilliantly courtesy of a Reinaldo hat-trick and strikes from Joffre and Mandar Rao Dessai to win the match 5-1 and catapult into the semi-finals. Before the semis though Goa would play the same team that they would eventually play again in two legs of the semifinals in the form of Delhi. In the last group stage match, they beat Delhi 3-2 before again facing them in the semi-finals. Delhi would take the early advantage in the first leg over the woeful Goa beating them 1-0, but the second leg belonged to the Gaurs.
They beat Delhi Dynamos 3-0 in the second leg of their semi-final clash with strikes from Joffre and Rafael Coelho in the first half and a Dudu goal in the second was enough to seal the deal for Goa. Winning with an aggregate of 3-1, Goa reached the finals where a date with Chennai awaits.