The Indian Super League (ISL) semi-final offers the top-four teams from the group stage an opportunity to showcase their title credentials.

Among the 12 ISL semi-finals that have been played so far, nothing comes close to the mouth-watering encounter between table-toppers FC Goa and fourth-placed Chennaiyin FC in the sixth edition.

Going into the Indian Super League (ISL) 2019-20 season semi-final clash, the Gaurs held the lead in the FC Goa vs Chennaiyin head-to-head record. They had eight wins in 12 matches and started as favourites in the contest as they were on a four-match winning streak against the Marina Machans

The build-up to the 2019-20 ISL semi-final was simply spectacular, from Chennaiyin FC’s perspective. 

Six games into the campaign, the John Gregory-led Chennaiyin FC were languishing second from bottom but the arrival of English coach Owen Coyle not only brought about a new style of play but also kickstarted a renaissance that saw them finish fourth and carried forward to the playoffs.

FC Goa, on the flip side, had a bumpy ride in the first seven matchdays of ISL 6 but after their 2-1 victory over ATK during matchday eight, the Gaurs maintained their ascendancy to the summit of the ISL points table. 

Spain’s Ferrán Corominas (14 goals) and French-Moroccan attacking midfielder Hugo Boumous (11 goals) combined to score 25 of the team’s 46 goals as FC Goa topped the league stage. 

Interestingly, the Gaurs claimed the first-ever ISL League Winners Shield and also became the first Indian football club to qualify for the AFC Champions League group stage.

In the first of the Chennaiyin FC vs FC Goa two-legged semi-final, the Gaurs were hammered 4-1 in Chennai on February 29 and no one expected FC Goa to make any kind of a comeback.

“It’s not us who have to turn things around, it's Goa,” Chennaiyin FC coach Owen Coyle said ahead of the match. “We have to stay focused on playing our game. We won’t change our style.

“We have shown that we are a goal threat and Goa know that. They know up close that we can create and score goals. Goa has some wonderful players and we have huge respect for them and how they play. It’s set to be a fantastic game. We come here with confidence in our advantage.”

That confidence was shaken in just 22 minutes of the second leg as FC Goa struck twice to make it 3-4 on aggregate and keep the hopes of a miraculous comeback alive.

FC Goa applied massive pressure on the visitor’s defence as their efforts finally bore fruit when Chennaiyin’s Lucian Goian miscued a header that went straight into his own net in the 10th minute. Moments later, Mourtada Fall headed home a Brandon Fernandes free-kick in the 21st minute, and this goal kept the home crowd beaming.

After the stunning first-half performance from Sergio Lobera’s men, the Gaurs looked all favourites to erase their 4-1 deficit from the first leg and qualify for the summit clash.

However, the hosts conceded two goals within 14 minutes of the second half courtesy Chennaiyin’s Lallianzuala Chhangte and Nerijus Valskis to bring the aggregate to 6-3. The equation meant the Gaurs required as many as four goals to have any hopes of playing their third ISL final.

Meanwhile, Edu Bedia made it 3-2 as the fixture entered the last 10 minutes of regulation time and the goal marked FC Goa’s 50th goal of the season. Mourtada Fall’s 83rd-minute strike took the teams’ score to 4-2, however, FC Goa still required two more goals in the final seven minutes to sneak into the final and script a miraculous comeback. That, though, didn’t happen.

Even though FC Goa won the tie, Chennaiyin FC booked their place in the final with an aggregate of 6-5 in the 2019-20 ISL semi-final.

An ISL semi-final of character

“We know it was a tough game,” Matourda Fall said later. “We had to play 100 per cent to win this game. I thank the team as we worked together. In the first half, we were leading 2-0 but we conceded also. 

“We tried our best to give everything, to play for the t-shirt, to play for the team, to play for the fans to be in the final. It was difficult today but this is football.”

Meanwhile, FC Goa interim coach Clifford Miranda praised his team’s efforts. “We came back strongly in the first half, took the lead, missed chances, scored chances,” he said.

“We came out in the second half, and if Jackichand Singh’s shot had gone in, it would have been 3-0 and we would have been right there. It is part of football. 

“We fought really well. We came back and hit the crossbar, their goalkeeper saved, they made goal-line saves. I’m extremely proud of these boys, the way they played and the way they showed character,” Miranda added.

Chennaiyin went on to play ATK -- who beat defending champions Bengaluru FC in their ISL semi-final -- in the final on March 14 and lost 3-1.

Feature image courtesy: 2020 Indian Super League.