Chennaiyin overcome FC Goa in thrilling ISL final amid Kattimani woe
Chennaiyin FC scored two late goals against FC Goa to win the Indian Super League (ISL) final 3-2 in a dramatic end to the country's premier football competition. Here are three thoughts from the game.
1. Kattimani goes from hero to villain.
FC Goa goalkeeper Laximikant Kattimani will remember this match for a very long time. Kattimani saved two second half penalties -- though the first rebounded to Chennaiyin striker Bruno Pelissari who fired it into the net to equalise -- and with three minutes remaining, his side led 2-1 thanks to an 87th minute free kick from Spanish midfielder Joffre Gonzalez.
After a solid performance and the home crowd beckoning for the final whistle as the clock reached 90 minutes, Kattimani leaped to collect a high ball punted into the Goa box, crashing into one of his own defenders and punching it into the back of his own net. The mistake brought the game back to 2-2 and signalled wild celebrations on the Chennaiyin bench just when they looked dead and buried.
Seconds later, another long ball fell to Colombian striker Stiven Mendoza who twisted and turned in the Goa box and fired a low, tame shot to Kattimani's right. The keeper slipped, managing to land a glove on the ball which agonisingly slipped past him to complete his late horror show. Mendoza ripped off his shirt to celebrate his 16th goal in 13 matches (making him the ISL's top scorer), as a distraught Kattimani fell to the ground with his head in his hands. There was barely time for the game to restart.
Kattimani had been looking at a potential Man of the Match award until his late howlers cost his team dear. Instead, Chennaiyin sealed the trophy.
2. Injuries cost FC Goa
FC Goa have been one of the ISL's most attractive and consistent performers, finishing top of the league stages and scoring the most number of goals (32).
Helped by the fact they have seven Brazilians in the squad, they have also played with flair and have become the neutrals' favourites. Two players in particular have been instrumental in the team's success: Nigerian striker Dudu Omagbemi and Brazilian midfield playmaker Leonardo Moura. Both started the final but picked up knocks and did not reappear for the second half with Dudu stretchered off in the first half with concussion.
Their loss threw Goa off and forced manager Zico to reorganise his side, but they struggled to cope -- particularly in the first half as they barely managed to threaten the Chennaiyin goal. Only netting four times in the tournament, Dudu has not been a prolific scorer, but his physical presence unsettles defenders while most of the team's creative inspiration has come from Moura, who looked a forlorn figure as he watched the second half from the bench.
Goa's approach throughout the ISL has been to attack from the off. Yet they struggled to assert any authority on the final until midway through the second half despite playing in front of their passionate home fans at the Fatorda stadium.
It was not the FC Goa that we expected to see and Zico, who has already hinted that he would like to return as manager for next year's tournament, will rue injuries to his two key players.
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3. India's rosy football future?
The final and the ISL in general has been a good indicator of where football is heading in India. The crowds at the games have been good, averaging over 26,000 and Indian players are being given greater opportunities to play following criticism from last year that managers were using too many foreigners.
Two domestic players in the final particularly caught the eye: FC Goa striker Thongkhosiem Haokip, who scored the equaliser for his side, and Chennaiyin's battling midfielder Thoi Singh. Both have performed well in the tournament as a whole, suggesting that Indian footballers are benefiting from playing alongside more experienced professionals from around the world.
But outside of the ISL, football in the country remains in a woeful state. The national team is 166th in the FIFA rankings, grassroots facilities are virtually non-existent and despite the growing enthusiasm for the game, barely anybody shows any interest in the official national domestic competition, the I League.
The success of this year's ISL tournament however has convinced football administrators in the country that the game's future lies in youth. India is to host the under-17 FIFA World Cup in 2017 and is also considering a bid for the U20 World Cup in 2020.
Praful Patel, President of the All India Football Federation told ESPN FC: "The ISL has been a fantastic tournament and shows the popularity of football in the country, but our focus has to be on youth and developing the players of tomorrow. It's going to be a long process but we are on the right track."
Vivek Chaudhary covers FIFA and the financial side of the game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @viveksport