The long wait is over for Mumbai City FC under inspiring Lobera; Hero ISL trophy next target

Mumbai City FC have done it -- at last. On Monday night, their long wait got over as the Islanders qualified for their first-ever Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) final after beating FC Goa 6-5 on penalties in the second leg after a 0-0 scoreline and 2-2 aggregate.

This was the third time they had reached the semis and fans’ expectations were probably never higher in terms of their chances of making it to the final. Mumbai City FC had finished in the top four in 2016 when they topped the table and then in 2018-19 when they finished third in the standings. In the first instance, they lost to eventual champions ATK FC, conceding 3-2 (in the first leg) and drawing 0-0 (in the second leg). On the second occasion, they were thrashed 5-1 by FC Goa in the first leg and although they won the second leg 1-0, they failed to advance on aggregate (2-5).

They were reasons galore for Mumbai City FC fans this time to expect that the Islanders will be able to overcome FC Goa. For one thing, this season they had been the team to beat for large parts. They did suffer a mini-hiccup towards the end of the league stage but got back on their feet in time and beat Odisha FC (6-1) and ATK Mohun Bagan (2-0) that helped them finish as table-toppers. As a result, they claimed the League Winners Shield and a place in next year’s AFC Champions League group stage.

Secondly, the presence of the experienced Sergio Lobera in the camp. Fans will remember that it was Lobera that led FC Goa to their second-ever final where they lost to Bengaluru FC by a narrow margin in 2018-19 and that it was Lobera who led the Gaurs to the Hero Super Cup title a few weeks later. Thirdly, ahead of the 2020-21 season when Lobera joined the Islanders, top-notch players from FC Goa like Mourtada Fall, Ahmed Jahouh, Hugo Boumous and Mandar Rao Dessai joined the head coach at Mumbai City FC shortly after. Serial goal-scorer Bartholomew Ogbeche was another great signing from Kerala Blasters FC.        

Bipin Singh, one of the revelations among Indian players across all teams this season with five goals and four assists so far, highlighted recently how Lobera’s influence was helping him grow. “The last two seasons were a big learning curve for me. But this season I feel a lot more confident and all credit for that goes to our head coach Sergio Lobera. Since day one, he has put his faith in my quality and my abilities. His biggest advice to me and to all my teammates is not to worry about losing the ball or about any mistakes and not to live in the past,” Bipin, the only player to score a hat-trick this season, exalted Lobera in an exclusive interview with last month.

Vignesh Dakshinamurthy is another Islanders player who spoke of Lobera in glowing terms of late. “…Being a part of this team fills me with pride. I would like to thank Sergio Lobera for believing in me. He believed that I can do the job on the pitch. I have learned many things under Sergio Lobera and I think I have improved a lot under him,” he said.

When a team and players feel such bonhomie and youngsters particularly feel secure, great results are bound to happen. So, Lobera’s men played as per expectations for the large part of the season and there was a time when they went undefeated for 12 games. In attack as well as defence, they have been solid. They scored the maximum number of goals (35) in the league stage and only ATK Mohun Bagan boasted a better defence than theirs with 15 goals conceded compared to their 18.    

Now the Islanders are going to face ATK Mohun Bagan in the final on Saturday which won’t be an easy team, however, fans would remember that that they have beaten the Mariners twice this season and that will be a great motivation for the Islanders heading into the grand finale. As of now, their chances of lifting the trophy look real good and it will only take a Mariners fan to bet against their title hopes, make no mistake.

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