Road to semis: After qualifying at the eleventh hour, FC Goa target third Hero ISL final appearance

FC Goa were the last team to secure their semi-final berth in Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2020-21. Regardless of the manager or the players, the Gaurs football philosophy remains a constant and has yielded a fourth consecutive semis appearance as well as sixth overall from seven seasons. The ongoing campaign witnessed them clinching the final semis spot on the last day of the league stage after they held Hyderabad FC to a goalless draw.

In what was one of the most competitive races for the top-four spots, the Gaurs held their nerve to qualify. A free-scoring side who were the joint second-best team going forward in attack, FC Goa were involved in several memorable contests and were the comeback kings of the league. No side got back into games after falling behind more than the Gaurs and most of their matches were highly competitive. Their biggest win in the league stage was a 3-0 triumph against Jamshedpur FC, and here’s a closer look at their journey to the semis.  

Matches played: 20, Points: 31, Wins: 7, Draws: 10, Losses: 3, Goals scored: 31, Goals conceded: 23

Clean sheets: 3

Top goal-scorer: Igor Angulo (13 goals)

After starting the season with a 2-2 draw against Bengaluru FC, the Gaurs stumbled to their first loss of the campaign against Mumbai City FC in a clash that saw them play most of the match with a man down. They drew their next game before winning the following two against Kerala Blasters FC and Odisha FC. The good work from their two wins was quickly undone with back-to-back losses against ATK Mohun Bagan and Chennaiyin FC.

However, those two losses were the last that they suffered in the league stage as Juan Ferrando’s men proceeded to go on a record 13-match unbeaten run. While a 13-match unbeaten run normally sees teams placed higher in the standings than fourth like FC Goa, it’s worth pointing out that the Gaurs were involved in plenty of draws, eight to be precise – six of which were in a row.

It’s the draws that held FC Goa back to a certain extent and a major reason behind them sharing the spoils so frequently has been their leaky defence, which has seen them trail numerous times over the course of the campaign. Late goals – many from inspired substitutions – have often bailed them out of jail though. Their last two scoring draws, in fact, witnessed them net in stoppage time and that’s been a running theme for the Gaurs in Hero ISL 2020-21.

Key players:

Igor Angulo, who was roped in to fill the big boots of Ferran Corominas, has been their main goal-threat and has done well to fill the void left by Coro. The Spaniard has scored 13 times so far and, along with compatriot Jorge Ortiz, who has netted six times, has led FC Goa’s frontline with distinction. Ishan Pandita – who has found the back of the net four times – has been another game-changer for the Gaurs having come off the bench to earn FC Goa crucial points time and again.

As far as creating chances go, no FC Goa player has provided more than Alberto Noguera’s eight assists. The Spaniard has also scored once and will be a big miss in the first leg after picking up a red card in the club’s last outing. Alexander Jesuraj is next on the Gaurs assists chart (4) and has posed a threat to opposition fullbacks.

Even though the Gaurs will be facing table-toppers Mumbai City FC in the semi-finals, they won’t be fazed by the prospect of taking on the Islanders. The two matches against Mumbai City FC earlier in the season saw them lose while playing with 10 men and then play out a thrilling 3-3 draw. They’ve probed openings in Mumbai City FC’s defence previously and will be confident in their ability to replicate that in what’s certain to be a blockbuster semi-final between two expansive teams.

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