One of the takeaways from the 2nd leg semi-final of the Indian Super League 2018 was Abhishek Bachchan in a mundu exhorting the fans in the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in Chennai to cheer the Chennai team on. Abhishek as co-owner of Chennaiyin FC felt propelled to rise from his seat to amble across in his summer wear to remind the crowd that they were there for a purpose.
He needn’t have worried. By halftime Chennai were two goals ahead and Goa was already gaping at defeat. True there were the whole of 45 minutes plus extra time to go but the body language of the Goa squad showed it all. They had given up. It was written all over their faces.
So it was only an academic exercise for Jeje to tap the ball into the left hand corner of the goal in the 90th minute to seal Goa’s fate. This was Jeje’s second goal of the match (the first in the 25th minute), the other goal being a scorcher from Dhanpal in the 27th.
Goa goalkeeper Naveen never looked comfortable from the word ‘go.’ Kattimani his predecessor had the distinction of letting the ball go into the goal through his legs in the first leg semi-final. Compared to that Chennai’s goalkeeper, Karanjit Singh had a body that arched incredibly to make no less than six huge saves. He was my choice, hands down, for the player of the match. Goalkeepers seldom get recognized for their daredevilry.
Jeje with his easy going style and almost-sleepy eyes belied the fire within. His mercurial sprints up the flanks right to the mouth of the opposing goal were a coach’s nightmare. But Jeje Lalpekhlua is not Tamilian by any stretch of the imagination. The striker from Mizoram is an invaluable addition to any side he plays for.
The Chennai side looked younger, more sprightly, and definitely more determined. It took them just 7 minutes to equalize against Goa in the first-leg semi-final at Fatorda Stadium -- that too besieged by a crowd of around 18,000, most of whom were rooting for the home team.
I wonder why when Goa is losing, the game begins to get ugly. It is a sad comment on a side that sometimes only manages to cobble together a raid on the opposing goal but which peters out at the crucial moment. When you are angry you can’t play the game. It’s simple. Righteous indignation does not always garner sympathy. In fact the Goa team were booed for their behaviour in Chennai.
Pressure hung heavy on Coro. Lack of passing and displaying one’s own virtuosity at the expense of the team’s goals undid the side. They failed to combine after reaching this far.
I personally feel that it was the colour that made the difference. Playing in white they performed like ghosts, spiritless and often aimlessly. Their traditional colours are blue. The dash and verve that signified blue was missing. Now the colours will help them nurse their blues.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 18th March 2018. (Top) Jeje exults after scoring for Mohun Bagan in the AFC cup qualifier in March 2017. Pix courtesy Deccan Chronicle. (Below) Mizoram fans at the Santosh trophy finals at Siliguri in March 2014. Pix courtesy livemint.com