Both FC Goa and Hyderabad FC stand on thin ice as only one team can fill in the final playoffs berth of the Indian Super League 2020-21 season. So when these two sides meet for the last time on Sunday, February 28, at the Fatorda Stadium, one can expect this game to be nothing short of an exemplary outing for both teams.

The race to finish within the playoffs berth was always going to go down the wire. With NorthEast United claiming a 2-0 victory over Kerala Blasters, the Highlanders have secured one spot, meaning that this game remains a virtual knockout fixture for the Gaurs and the Nizams.

Goa have a slight advantage in the race given that they need just one point from the fixture, while Hyderabad needs to pick all three points. However, that fact hasn’t deteriorated the Gaurs, who look keen on scoring more goals rather than sitting at the back and defending for their lives. 

'We play to win'

“FC Goa always play in attack," said midfielder Ivan Gonzalez during the pre-match press conference.

"If we think that a draw is enough, then we will only draw. We are winning 2 or 3-1 in our games, but we want to score more. It is a good challenge for us, but I prefer to always play in attack. We should take minimum risks. They know that they have to win to qualify, but we have to win as well."

Why is defence struggling?

Goa have had no issues in bagging goals this season. They have, in fact, scored 31 goals, with only Mumbai City  FC scoring more (33). The problem has been at the back, which has leaked goals at will. Amongst the top-five teams this season, Goa have let in the second-highest number of goals (23), but manager Juan Ferrando says he’s not worried about it.

“No, I don’t think so (that conceding goals has been a problem this season),” explained Ferrando. 

“We’ve conceded six goals through penalties, somewhere around 10 through set-pieces. Sometimes it’s the wrong decision in our pressing, sometimes it’s the lack of focus in the opponent’s cross, or sometimes we’ve not been sharp enough on the second ball. Of course, there’s a scope to improve, but at the moment, I’m not worried about it.”

The good thing for Goa, however, is the suspension of Adriane Santana. The towering striker, who has scored 10 of Hyderabad’s 27 goals this season, picked his fourth yellow of the season against ATK Mohun Bagan, meaning that he won’t be available for selection.

Will Ishan Pandita start?

Ferrando has experimented with his starting XI several times this season. In comparison, it remains to be seen who will be his overseas players on Sunday, another thing to keep an eye on youngster Ishan Pandita's involvement. The last time these two sides met, Pandita came on as a second-half substitute and went on score the winner. When asked about his place in the XI on Sunday, Ferrando said he is a work in progress.

“He’s a young player, and he’s learning,” explained Ferrando. “He’s learning about the timing of the high press, the second ball when to use the space, and stuff like that. It’s very important to improve, and when he’s ready for it, he will have more minutes on the pitch. My target is not to use him for the final minutes. I want to use his skills for 45 or maybe 90 minutes. And it will only happen game-by-game, and this will help him in his career.

“I don’t like snubbing a player just after one game, but with Ishan, it’s a step-by-step process.”

Feature image courtesy: Twitter / FCGoaOfficial