Road to semi-finals: Goa eye further history after clinching League Winners Shield

One of the most consistent sides in the history of the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL), FC Goa are all set for a record fifth appearance in the knockout stages of the competition. The Goa-based outfit finished top of the league table, clinching the first-ever Hero ISL League Winners Shield and securing a direct entry to the AFC Champions League 2021 group stage, making them the first Indian team to earn the right to represent the country in Asia’s top club competition. Despite having achieved so much already this season, the Gaurs will have one more objective they will want to fulfill – winning the Hero ISL trophy.

Having missed out on the coveted trophy despite coming in striking distance on so many occasions, including losing out in the final back in 2015 and then again last season, the Gaurs will be hell-bent on ending their wait this time around. With their final charge to turn the dream into reality set to begin, here’s a quick glance at the club’s journey in the Hero ISL 2019-20 so far.

Form over the season:

The then Sergio Lobera-coached outfit got their Hero ISL 2019-20 campaign up and running on a winning note with a 3-0 victory at home against two-time champions Chennaiyin FC. Summer signing Seiminlen Doungel scored in his very first start for the club, with usual suspect Ferran Corominas and defender Carlos Pena also getting on the scoresheet.

Their next two games, however, proved to be much stiffer challenges as the Gaurs had to rely on late equalisers against Bengaluru FC and NorthEast United FC to salvage draws from these fixtures. The team did return to winning ways with a 4-2 away triumph over Mumbai City FC but in the very next tie against Jamshedpur at home, had to endure the taste of their first loss of the season courtesy a Sergio Castel strike.

The first match of December saw them struggle to a 2-2 draw against Kerala, with a stoppage time equaliser by Lenny Rodrigues averting back-to-back losses. Tottering with nine points from six matches, the mighty Gaurs’ top four credential was under the microscope. Goa, however, responded in their typical flamboyant fashion, ending the 2019 calendar with a series of four successive wins, including a home triumph over an in-form ATK side.

The new year, though, began with a stumble as the club won one and lost two of their next three matches. A 2-0 home victory over the Highlanders was sandwiched between away losses to Bengaluru and ATK respectively. On the bright side, however, midfielder Hugo Boumous was beginning to look sharp and played a big part in their revival, engineering a 3-2 win over Kerala and then following it up with a stellar showing in Goa’s 4-2 drubbing of Odisha FC.

With the final charge for the top four and the summit spot set to unfold in February, the club, quite surprisingly, parted ways with Lobera, creating a sense of uncertainty among the fans. Under the stewardship of new interim head coach Clifford Miranda, however, the team put all doubts to rest with a massive 4-1 win over Hyderabad, which sealed their place in top four. With Boumous and Corominas firing all cylinders, Goa won their subsequent two matches, scoring five in each, and ensure a top spot finish.

Like most seasons, an unwavering attacking intent and often blowing the opposition away in the process has been a feature of the Goa team this season as well. However, one interesting aspect of this team has been their ability to grind out results even when the odds are stacked against them, as shown by their early draws against Bengaluru, NorthEast and Kerala. The Kerala match in Kochi, in particular, is a great example considering the team was without Coro, Boumous and midfield general Ahmed Jahouh in the contest owing to injuries and suspensions. Furthermore, Mourtada Fall was sent off early in the second half, forcing the team to play with 10 men for over 40 minutes. Despite the adversities, Goa equalized twice to salvage a point from the tie.

Key players:

Ferran Corominas

Like previous two seasons, the Spaniard has been prolific in front of goal this time as well, scoring 14 goals in 15 league fixtures. Additionally, the 37-year-old provided four assists and is a major reason behind the Gaurs finishing top of the table. Whether or not the Spaniard can complete a hat-trick of Golden Boots and inspire his team to their first-ever Hero ISL trophy, only time will tell. But what’s certain is that the Spaniard’s form in the semis will play a major role in Goa’s fortunes.

Hugo Boumous

After showing glimpses of his immense potential in the previous two seasons, the Frenchman has seriously stepped up to the plate in the Hero ISL 2019-20. In 14 matches, the 24-year-old scored 11 goals and provided 10 further assists – making him the first player in the league’s history to register double digits in both. Boumous’ passing accuracy so far this season has been close to 70%, with his conversion rate standing around a staggering 30%. Heading into the semi-finals, the Gaurs will be hoping that the midfielder keeps up his appetite and helps the club win the title.

Mourtada Fall

Playing all but one league fixture for the club this season, the Senegalese continued his long-standing formidable partnership with Carlos Pena at the heart of the Gaurs’ backline. The 32-year-old accounted for 63 tackles, 175 clearances, 19 interceptions and as many blocks, making him a rock at the back. Fall’s passing accuracy stands at an impressive 88.51%, a quality which has been integral to Goa’s style which involves playing out from the back. Fall is also a considerable goal threat from set pieces, as shown by his three goals and two assists so far.

Semi-final fixtures:

1st Leg: Chennaiyin FC vs FC Goa

Date: February 29, 2020

Venue: Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Chennai

2nd Leg: FC Goa vs Chennaiyin FC

Date: March 7, 2020

Venue: Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Goa

Check the full fixtures list here.

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