KOCHI: When Mumbai City FC and FC Goa met in the first leg of their semi-final encounter on Friday, the Islanders were expected to be the outright favourites.
They had the strongest squad in the league and justified that by winning the Indian Super League shield. However, when the two met, Goa proved to be more than a match as Sergio Lobera's team had to come from behind on two occasions to earn a 2-2 draw and they were lucky to finish the game with eleven men after Mourtada Fall's dangerous tackle on Princeton Rebello.
The youngster will miss the second leg while Mourtada got away with only a yellow. However, if the first leg was anything to go by, Goa are now pushovers and it sets up nicely when the two meet in the second leg on Monday.
When Juan Ferrando took over at FC Goa ahead of this season, he had a rebuilding job on his hands after Mumbai had poached most of their players. The Spaniard managed to do a commendable job by guiding Goa to the play-offs and suggested ahead of the second leg that they are ready to push Mumbai till the end.
"We have prepared for penalties because it is necessary. But I hope we don't need penalties in the end," said Ferrando.
He added: "We get two days of recovery time but when we are preparing for such a game, we want more days but it's the same for all teams."
Goa will also be missing their influential and experienced right-back Seriton Fernandes but will welcome back key players Albert Noguera and Ivan Gonzalez. As for Mumbai, Lobera doesn't want to just settle for the shield and AFC Champions League next season as they have firmly set their eyes on the ISL trophy.
They have never entered the final of ISL and this team looks best positioned to change that.
"I am not feeling any pressure and neither are my players. It's been a big season for us as we achieved the AFC Champions League. We want to enjoy the play-offs and obviously, we want to win the trophy," said the former Goa coach.
For the Islanders, Fall's dangerous two-footed tackle became a major talking point ahead of the second leg, especially after the Goan side wrote to the All India Football Federation to take action against the Senegalese player.
"Now we are in the playoffs and I want to focus on my team. I don't like people crying all the time. On the pitch, we need to respect everyone and try to help the people who are doing a difficult job like the referees and the match commissioners," he said.
Pointing at another refereeing decision that went in Goa's favour, Lobera suggested that he has never complained about the referees.
"I never speak about referees. In the Jamshedpur match, the referee did not give a goal to them and then Goa scored. Nobody spoke about that," said Lobera.
Even Ferrando chose to set aside all off-field controversies and focus on the biggest game of their season.
"My focus is on the game because other things are not in my hand and you lose energy. We just want to prepare for tomorrow," he said.