After distinct journeys and in contrasting form, Odisha FC and FC Goa meet at the crossroads

Before the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2020-21 season, Odisha FC seemed in high spirits. The club had, in their first Hero ISL adventure, given an extremely good account of themselves and had retained a core of players, hoping that they would catapult themselves to glory in the 2020-21 edition.    

Unfortunately, nothing of that sort transpired, with Odisha FC eventually finishing last in a campaign that witnessed everything. They had to shuffle through managers, many of their marquee names were consigned to intermittent roles and their defence leaked goals.

They ended up shipping 44 goals – equating to 2.2 goals per game and were at sixes and sevens defensively. The next worst tally (as far as conceding goals was concerned) was 36 (Kerala Blasters FC), indicating how everything had turned pear-shaped for Odisha FC.

Thus, when Kiko Ramirez came along, he didn’t just have to inject a bit of confidence into the Odisha FC ranks, he also had to ensure that they somehow regained the attacking verve that they had showcased in 2019-20 under Josep Gombau.

FC Goa, on the other hand, enjoyed an excellent campaign in 2020-21. Before the term began, they had lost the services of their head coach (Sergio Lobera), Ahmed Jahouh, Hugo Boumous, Mourtada Fall and captain Mandar Rao Dessai.

Juan Ferrando was also a relative Hero ISL greenhorn, meaning that the odds were stacked against FC Goa continuing their consistent run in the competition. However, they almost always found a way, scoring 31 times in the league stage and only conceding 23 goals.  

While that still equated to conceding more than a goal per match, it was an impressive feat, considering they had let in as many goals when Clifford Miranda and Lobera had guided them to the Hero ISL League Winners Shield a season ago.  

Hence, for the Gaurs, this campaign was more about building on the positives they had garnered in 2020-21 and trying to marry it with an adequate end product – one that would quench their thirst for Hero ISL glory.

Rather ironically, though, FC Goa and Odisha FC have endured completely contrasting starts in the 2021-22 iteration of the Hero ISL.  

The Gaurs, who narrowly missed out on the final in March 2021, failed to win their opening three fixtures. More worryingly, they scored only two goals during that sequence, despite enjoying a lion’s share of possession.

Odisha FC, meanwhile, hurtled out of the traps, thumping Bengaluru FC and SC East Bengal in their first two encounters. While they put three past the Blues, they made the net bulge six times against SC East Bengal in a display where they truly flexed their attacking muscles.

Thus, at that juncture, plenty had earmarked Odisha FC as a team that could upset the apple cart in the Hero ISL and projected FC Goa as an outfit that would, unlike recent seasons, struggle.

Just as those assumptions were made, though, the tide turned – in a manner that encapsulated the beauty of the Hero ISL and illustrated how competitive this league has been since its inception.

So much so that with FC Goa and Odisha FC on a collision course come Friday, both have, rather amazingly, charted different trajectories, again. Ramirez's side come into the contest having lost their past two matches, whereas the Gaurs are in the midst of a three-game unbeaten run.

To add to the spice of the contest, FC Goa and Odisha FC will have relatively new managers in the dugout. Ramirez, despite his impressive start, has only been at the helm six times in the Hero ISL, whereas Derrick Pereira has been thrust into the deep end after Ferrando’s sudden and unexpected departure to ATK Mohun Bagan.

Both teams have established foreign stars of the ilk of Alberto Noguera, Edu Bedia, Ivan Gonzales (all FC Goa), Javi Hernandez, Jonathas and Victor Mongil (all Odisha FC) in their ranks, while also relying on an Indian core bristling with youthful exuberance.  

Most tellingly, this encounter has the potential to shape two Hero ISL journeys. If the Gaurs post another victory, it would give them the confidence that they can, despite the managerial change, make a fist of this season. A defeat could, however, cast a bit of doubt and make them question if they can keep their momentum intact.  

Similarly, a loss for Odisha FC might force them to relive the horrors of 2020-21 – an edition where nothing went right for them and they plummeted to the bottom. A win, though, could make them believe and realise that their recent rut was perhaps a blip on what has otherwise been an entertaining and thrilling road to redemption.

FC Goa and Odisha FC had, before a ball had been kicked, charted opposite trajectories. During the campaign, too, they’ve had their fair share of ebbs and flows.

From that perspective alone, it feels fitting that both have, keeping in mind their early season form, arrived at this crossroad where two contrasting sets of fortunes collide. And, of course, find themselves in a situation where their seasons could either take a turn for the better or for the worse.     

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