FC Goa qualified for the playoffs of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 after a 3-3 draw against Punjab FC at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi tonight. The two teams couldn’t win the contest, but the breathtaking nature of the game was such that the spectators returned as the eventual and rightful winners.

The Gaurs ran circles around the Punjab FC defence for the better portion of the first half.

Goalkeeper Ravi Kumar had to step into the action frequently, saving a range of efforts both from distance as well as close by.

They cracked open the proceedings courtesy of Carl McHugh.

Having won a corner, Borja Herrera pulled off a unique move, curling the ball to the Irish central midfielder placed in the middle of the 18-yard box.

Impressively, he received the ball with ease and drilled it into the back of the net in one go, pegging Punjab FC back, much to the dismay of the home supporters.

That was followed by the trio of Raynier Fernandes, Noah Sadaoui, and Herrera taking rounds to test the Punjab FC custodian.

Noah had set up a slick move for Fernandes in the 24th minute, and the Mumbai-based midfielder did well to shoot with pace on target, but was kept at bay by Ravi.

Similarly, Ravi repeatedly rushed to the rescue of the Staikos Vergetis-coached unit, and their forwards relished the benefit of that in the second essay of the game.

As usual, it was the terrific trio of Madih Talal, Luka Majcen, and Wilmar Jordan Gil who worked their magic for Punjab FC in the final third. Nine minutes into the second half, Talal showed commendable control to see off a challenge by Raynier on the touchline on the right flank. He launched in a cross for Gil inside the box, who squared up the ball for Majcen. The Slovenian was marked though, and hence he believed it to be better than Gil. Majcen simply laid the ball with a small pass to Gil on the right, and this mini exchange bagged the equaliser for Punjab FC.

A chaotic half hour of the game followed, with the game swinging both ways multiple times. As the match progressed, Punjab FC resorted countering the opposition. Majcen struck the back of the net in the 61st minute, and it had come thanks to Talal racing down the right flank and producing the perfect delivery for the striker that he slammed in home to get a slender lead. Noah recovered FC Goa by converting a spot-kick in the 72nd minute, which the Gaurs earned because of Boris Singh and his smart work with his feet inside the box.

The joy of the equaliser didn’t last long for the visitors, with Juan Mera pulling off an almost solo effort against an unorganised FC Goa defence, which wore a completely disoriented look, unlike the team that had conceded only 14 goals in the competition before this match. Mera made light work of breaking them apart as he sprinted down the flank and shot inside the ball to get the lead back in their favour.

The Gaurs desperately needed a point to qualify for the playoffs, and their specialist striker Carlos Martinez did the honours by tapping in a squared up delivery by Noah in the 84th minute of the contest.

Key Performer of the Match

Luka Majcen (Punjab FC)

The striker scored and assisted once, in addition to completing 13 out of his 16 passes, making a clearance and interception each, and also drew three fouls in this game.

What’s next for both teams?

FC Goa will return to action against Bengaluru FC on March 14, whereas Punjab FC’s forthcoming fixture is scheduled on April 2 against Odisha FC.

Brief Scores

Punjab FC 3 (Wilmar Jordan Gil 54’, Luka Majcen 62’, Juan Mera 78’) - 3 FC Goa (Carl McHugh 5’, Noah Sadaoui 72’, Carlos Martinez 84’) 

For more information, visit our match center: https://www.indiansuperleague.com/matchcentre/62581