The one common thing between FC Goa and Chennaiyin FC over two Indian Super League seasons has been their consistency. Hence it came as no surprise when the two made it once again to the final four of this unpredictable tournament.
In 2014, Kerala Blasters edged Chennaiyin out in one semi-final, while Atletico de Kolkata put a dagger through Goan hearts to win on the other.
However, their playing styles could not be any different. Managed by former Italian centre-back Marco Materazzi, Chennaiyin FC rely heavily on their defensive discipline. Goa under Zico live by the words ‘joga bonito’ (play beautifully), the famous Brazilian phrase.
In a sense, Sunday’s grand finale boils down to a match up between Goa’s attack and Chennaiyin’s defence. But that would be oversimplifying a complex tactical battle, which will be played out between the two managers and their think tanks.
Finals can often turn out to be cagey affairs, with teams curbing their natural instincts, waiting for the other side to commit a mistake. While there is no doubt what the overwhelming sentiment inside the stadium will be like, neutrals however will be rooting for Chennai.
As ISL 2015 draws to a close with its final battle, here are five factors that are likely to determine the outcome of the tournament’s finale between Chennaiyin FC and FC Goa.
Season one of the ISL established FC Goa as having one of the most potent attacks in the league. But this year, Zico's boys turned on the style to the numero uno position in that department. Goa had 115 shots on target, scoring 32 goals. Leo Moura scored 2 of those but more crucially assisted 8 and played. The midfielder's vision and passing range has been a hallmark of his side's play going forward.
The 37-year-old's absence was felt in Goa's last group stage game, as Delhi's overran their midfield in the absence of Moura. His ability to collect the ball in front of the defence and spray passes across the pitch to teammates has made him unplayable at times. For Goa, everything positive and constructive has flown through the diminutive maestro and it will be no different in the final.
Emotion and momentum
Be it Chennai Super Kings in the IPL or Chennaiyin FC in the ISL, fans from the Tamil Nadu capital have cheered on their teams in victory and defeat. Over the years, Chennai crowds have been synonymous with loyalty and sporting spirit. Towards the fag of the group stages, city of Chennai was ravaged with devastating floods. Naturally, the circumstances affected Chennaiyin FC as they tried to secure a top four spot. Their crucial semi-final first leg was shifted to Pune, denying the team of home advantage.
Despite the odds, Chennaiyin's players battled through winning five games on the trot. Adversity appears to have fuelled the fighting spirit of the players and a win in the finals will be a perfect tribute to the resilience of the city. Chennaiyin FC have peaked at the right time and carry a winning momentum into the finals that could push them past the finish line on Sunday.
Fanatical Fatorda crowd
The considerable decline in fortunes of Goan football at the national stage has been staggering. Of late, no players from the state are regulars in the Indian team. Dempo have been relegated from the I-League, while Salgaoncar just managed to scrape through to safety. In such times, the emergence of FC Goa has helped lift spirits of fans. The passionate home support has been a force multiplier for Goa in both editions of the ISL.
All of FC Goa's home games have been sold out, with supporters creating a remarkably unique atmosphere inside the Jawarhlal Nehru Stadium in South Goa. Against Chennaiyin FC, Fatorda will be packed to the rafters with decibel levels hitting new levels. On finals day, visitors can expect less of Goa's famous hospitality and plenty of hostility.
John Stiven Mendonza Valencia has been the heartbeat of Chennaiyin FC this year. Pick up any attacking statistic and you'll find the Ecuadorian topping the charts. The striker is top goal scorer of the ISL this year with 12. He has hit the target 37 times, 12 more than his closest rival Sony Norde. The pacy forward has been ably supported by his running mate Jeje Lalpekhlua who has found the back of the net on six occasions. In Chennaiyin's last six matches, the duo has been involved in 11 goals.
Mendonza will carry happy memories from his last visit to the venue of the Sunday final. During the third round match at Fatorda, Mendonza bagged a hat-trick to leave the Goan crowd stunned in a 4-0 mauling. The 23-year-old is credited for putting on most devastating show by a visiting player to the Goan shores in the ISL. In the final, Mendonza could be Chennaiyin's trump card.
Difference in defending
When it comes to defending, Chennaiyin FC have stolen a march over their rivals this season. With tough tackling midfielders and reliable defenders, they are clearly a cut above the rest. Thoi Singh with 67 tackles and Rapahel Augusto with 66 rank second and third respectively for the most tackles completed stat. Defensive solidity has meant Chennaiyin have kept six clean sheets, more than any other team.
on the other hand are vulnerable at the back. They have conceded first in most of their games, only to bailed out by their sublime attack. Defending set pieces has proven to be their Achilles heel this season. Despite the presence of World Cup winner Lucio, the Gaurs just haven’t’ been able to deal with the aerial threat effectively. This could lead to their downfall in the final.
The one thing that could play into Goa’s hands is the ammunition they possess on the bench. Of late, Zico has opted for a conservative approach in midfield. If the situation demands, he will unleash local boys Romeo Fernandes and Mandar Rao Dessai on either wing. The lightning pace of the duo could prove to be devastating for tired defend against late on in matches. There’s nothing more that will please the home crowd than a winner from one their hometown heroes. Come Sunday, a fairytale finish at Fatorda could be in the offing.