Mumbai: Mumbai City FC have a huge task on hand to overturn their 2-3 first leg semi-final defeat against former champions Atletico de Kolkata without the inspiring presence of their marquee player Diego Forlan in the return leg of the semifinals here tomorrow.
The Uruguayan striker, winner of the Golden Boot at FIFA World Cup in 2010, was sent off in the first leg in Kolkata after getting two yellow cards and will sit out of the semifinals second leg at Mumbai Football Arena where he had ripped apart Kerala Blasters with a superb hat-trick earlier.
In fact, four of Forlan's five goals this ISL season have been scored at this venue. To put matters in perspective, Mumbai City FC have not won a single game without Forlan, including a 1-1 draw against ATK earlier at the same venue.
It is not just Forlan's form in front of goal that Mumbai will miss. The Uruguayan is dangerous with set pieces with wickedly curling free-kicks and he also drops back in midfield to help the team move ahead, traits that will be sorely missed in the do-or-die game.
"It's difficult for me to predict now whether we will suffer in Diego's absence. After the game we can talk about that. In the games that he did not play, like against ATK, we performed well. The one who is going to play in Diego's spot, I don't have any doubt that he will do the best to help us get through (to the final)," said coach Alexandre Guimaraes.
It's not all gloomy for Mumbai though. They have enjoyed a stellar campaign at home and much of it has come down to their ability to defend well. They have conceded just three goals at home, the least among all teams, and their tally of four clean sheets at home is also the most by any team.
"The players are excited to play in front of our fans, who have been great. I hope tomorrow, we have a full stadium and the fans will push our players to the limit. We have to play smart. We don't have to be suicidal (with our game)," said Guimaraes.
ATK, winners in the inaugural edition of the tournament, are the only team to have qualified for the play-offs in all three editions of the ISL and will be keen to make up for their disappointing semi-final loss against eventual winners Chennaiyin FC last season.
The visitors will have an advantage as they need only a draw to book their tickets for Sunday's grand finale in Kochi, but coach Jose Molina said they will not pack the defence and protect their win in Kolkata.
"Nothing changes for us because of the result in Kolkata. We will not play in a different way. Of course, we know we have a small advantage and we have to keep calm but everything depends how the game is going on tomorrow," said Molina.
ATK have never scored in an away leg semi-final in the ISL but they will remain confident that they can sail through if they can only keep a clean slate.
Interestingly, they have collected just eight points at home, the least among all semi-finalists in ISL history, but their patchy home form meant they have been strong away, winning more points away from home (12) for the first time in ISL history.
"To lose only two games out of 15 (in the league) is something really good but tomorrow is a different match. What we did in the past is not important. If we go to the final, it will be because tomorrow, we will play a good match, not because of what we did before. I live in the present not past," said Molina.