FC Goa head coach Manolo Marquez felt his team is worthy of a place in the semi-finals of the Indian Super League (ISL) after their spirited performance against Chennaiyin FC at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Goa on Saturday.

It was a game of fine margins between the two teams, with both having an equal share of chances. The Gaurs dominated ball possession from the outset, creating numerous offensive moves through the flanks, which resulted in Noah Sadaoui’s 36th-minute opener. The hosts doubled their lead within the next 10 minutes when captain Brandon Fernandes scored an absolute stunner from long range.

However, Chennaiyin FC pulled one goal back through Lazar Cirkovic, who capitalized on FC Goa keeper Dheeraj Singh’s slippery fist inside the box from a set-piece situation.

Owen Coyle’s men started the game with more determination in search of the equalizer. The Marina Machans came very close to scoring, but Jordan Murray’s efforts were denied twice by FC Goa defenders, maintaining their slender one-goal advantage. The visitors fought hard until the very end, but a resilient FC Goa defence propelled the Gaurs to the semi-finals.

Marquez acknowledged that it was a very close game in terms of creating chances, but he realized that going into halftime with a 2-1 scoreline ultimately helped his team deliver a solid second-half performance with fresh energy and enthusiasm.

"I think these kinds of games are difficult to play. Things were very tight at the beginning of the game. We managed to score two goals; the second goal by Brandon (Fernandes) was fantastic. Just when it seemed like we had control of the game, we conceded a goal in injury time of the first half. Sometimes, going into the second half with a 2-0 scoreline is more dangerous than being up 2-1,” he said in the post-match press conference.

"Because when you're 2-0 up, you might have the confidence, but with 2-1, you know you need to step onto the pitch with the right attitude. Maybe for the spectators, the game wasn't very exciting. But I believe that we deserve to qualify (for the semi-finals),” he further added.

After scoring a late goal in the first half, Chennaiyin FC created several chances at the beginning of the second half. Their biggest opportunity came in the 58th minute when Vincy Barreto failed to beat the onrushing Dheeraj at the near post, followed by Murray’s back-to-back strikes, which were rigorously saved by Nim Dorjee and Jay Gupta.

“You (can) enter the pitch in the second half with the idea that the team will manage the situation with a 2-1 scoreline, but our idea was to score the third goal. They had a clear chance in the second half to equalize the game,” he stated.

“I have to check the statistics, but from the sideline, it feels like we were closer to a 3-1 scoreline than a 2-2 draw. While I can only speak highly of Chennaiyin FC and Owen because of their last couple of games, they deserved to make it into the top six. However, I firmly believe that we deserved to be in the semi-finals,” he continued.

After conceding a late goal in the first half, the Gaurs maintained their composure throughout the following 45 minutes, demonstrating their resilience and determination. When questioned about his halftime address in the dressing room, Marquez responded, 

“The instructions were clear. We need to go and try to score the third goal.”

“Obviously, there should be moments when Chennaiyin FC had their attacks, and there would be more spaces (for us). After every minute, they will play more offensively, and we’ll have more space for counterattacks. You need to manage these situations. I think the boys understood the game very well in the second half,” he explained.

Marquez’s team will now face Petr Kratky’s Mumbai City in the second semi-final of the ISL 2023–24 season. The Spaniard is anticipating another tight battle against the Islanders in the upcoming two-leg fixture.

“(It will be) difficult for FC Goa, but also difficult for Mumbai City FC. Sorry, because for now I’ll be arrogant, but this is my third consecutive playoff. We were champions with Hyderabad FC. It’ll be a very equal game here in Goa and in Mumbai also,” he commented.

"We're aware of the quality of the players at Mumbai City FC. It's not just about playing well; it's about competing well. I'm completely certain that we'll play (with that spirit). In the playoffs, it’s difficult to play good football in some moments that most of the teams played during the regular season,” Marquez signed off.