MARGAO:The script was eerily familiar. Ninety minutes gone in the final, protagonists a goal behind. Opposition fans had started planning celebrations. Then comes an improbable equaliser, seemingly taking the match into extra-time. And then just as match officials reluctantly take off the ribbons they had tied to the trophy a very long couple of minutes ago, the winning goal arrives.
A running commentary of Manchester United’s victory over Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League final, this, could have been. Instead it was Chennaiyin FC and John Stiven Mendoza celebrating after a 3-2 win. The stage was a lot less grander, as was the prize. The heist, though, was every bit as exciting.
‘Perhaps, the cruelest way to win a football game’ Gary Neville had described that night in Barcelona. The fates were no less crueler on Zico and FC Goa. They had done well to come back from an early Bruno Pelissari penalty and take the lead, Thongkoisep Haokip and Joffre Mateu doing the dirty work. But all that was undone in the dying minutes, Mendoza first pressurizing Laxmikant Kattimani into deflecting the ball into his own net, then scoring the winner in the second minute of extra time. It was redemption for the Colombian who had earlier missed a penalty.
Goa had the ball in the Chennaiyin box within a minute of the start, but it was the visitors who came out swinging in the opening period. Chennaiyin pushed forward with purpose when they had the ball and constantly harangued their opponents. The result was quite a few Goa players falling around like fireflies under some crunchier-than-usual tackles. Zico had to make his first change after just six minutes, with Dudu Omagbeni stretchered off after a clash with Pelissari.
It was natural that the first big chance of the game fell to Pelissari who skipped past a defender and ran through on goal. Minutes later, Mendoza found himself one on one with Kattimani. A desperate lunge by Kattimani succeeded in clearing the ball, but Mendoza felt he had been prevented from getting there first by a pull from the defender chasing him. The referee did not see anything untoward.
The teams went in goalless throughout at break, with everyone who had predicted a cagey affair feeling pretty vindicated. What followed was absolute mayhem.
Chennaiyin started the goal rush, nine minutes after the restart, with the referee pointing to the spot after Mendoza went down. Kattimani saved Pelissari’s shot but only succeeded in palming it back into the Brazilian’s path. It took four minutes for Goa to hit back. Romeo Fernandes raced down the right and fired in a low cross. Haokip poked it in.
With the game heading towards extra-time, Goa delivered what many thought to be the knockout punch with just three minutes left. Joffre swung in a low free-kick past Edel Bete. Goa celebrated like they had won. Little did they know there was a rather cruel twist in the tale.
Details that mattered
A physical for Goa
Managed by Marco Materazzi, Chennaiyin was always supposed to be physical on the field. But they took it up another notch on Sunday with Goa players going down like fireflies. At one point, it looked like Zico might have to use up all his substitutions in the opening half-an-hour.
Miffed goa stay away from presentation
While the match itself finished in the most exciting way possible, there were a couple of unsavoury scenes at the end, as Brazil playmaker Elano got into a scuffle with the FC Goa officials, including one of the owners. The scuffle was followed by FC Goa boycotting both the presentation ceremony and post match press conference.
A touch of Jose by Marco
One would have expected Jose Mourinho to make this gutsy a decision, but it was his one-time protégé Marco Materazzi making it. When the Chennaiyin starting line-up was announced, Elano was nowhere to be seen. A sensible decision, considering Chennaiyin have been more fluid without the Brazilian this season, but one that still required a lot of nerve to make.