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Never-say-die Chennai come back to lift ISL crown in nail-biting final

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Never-say-die Chennai come back to lift ISL crown in nail-biting final

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SportsCafe Desk


Stiven Mendoza's late goal gifted Chennaiyin a stunning 3-2 win over FC Goa in the final of the Indian Super League (ISL) at the Fatorda Stadium in Goa on Sunday. Goa were leading the game 2-1 in the 90th minute of the match, till the visitors scored two late, late goals to turn the match around on its head and lift their first ISL trophy.

FC Goa manager Zico fielded an unchanged line-up, as he went in with the same team which defeated Delhi Dynamos in the second leg of their semi-final tie. Chennayin, on the other hand, made just one change to the line-up they used against Atletico de Kolkata, with Bruno Pelissari replacing Zico in attack.

The enormity of the occasion got the better of both the teams, and it had a very cagey and physical beginning. Goa were dealt an early blow, when Dudu was stretchered off the field after a clash of heads with Chennaiyin defender Mailson Alves. Zico replaced the striker with Italian midfielder Jonatan Lucca. This forced a changed in tactics, with Jofre moving upfront to partner Rafael Coelho in the attack and Leo Moura playing as the playmaker.

Goa's defenders seemed very conscious about the pace of Chennaiyin forwards Stiven Mendoza and Jeje Lalpekhlua, and they dropped deep into their own half in order counteract that. Zico was clearly unwilling to give Mendoza and Jeje too much space to run in behind the relatively static Goa defence.

In the 17th minute, Bruno Pelissari found Mendoza at the edge of the box with a header. The Colombian striker was brought down by Pronay Halder, but the loose ball reached Pelissari, who continued his run. The Brazilian did brilliantly to skip by Lucio, but he rushed his shot and it went wide.

Goa pushed up the field a bit more as the game progressed, in order to bring more impetus into their attack, and this in turn began to open up space behind the back-three.

A minute later, Halder failed to connect with his attempted clearance from a long ball, and Mendoza had a sniff at goal. However, Goa goalkeeper Laxmikant Kattimani was quick off his line, and he cleared the danger before Mendoza could reach the ball. The Chennaiyin striker went down under the challenge and appealed for a penalty, which did not please Kattimani, and he pushed the striker to the ground. Luckily for the Indian custodian though, the referee was in a lenient mood, and did not award any card.

Tempers were running high in the game and tackles were flying in from everywhere, as the referee failed to take control of the game.

In the 32nd minute, Goa received a free kick from a good position in front of the goal, and Moura tried to catch the goalkeeper out with a cleverly-taken low shot, which went under the wall as he jumped high anticipating a powerful shot. However, the ball took a deflection off Mehrajuddin Wadoo and went just wide of the post.

Goa came close to scoring in the 33rd minute, when Coelho headed in Lucca's corner at the near post, but luckily for Chennaiyin, Thoi Singh was at the line to prevent the ball from going in. At the other end, Mendoza brought the best out of Kattimani, as his left-footed drive took a wicked deflection and got directed to the near post. The Goa goalkeeper brilliantly kept it out with his right palm.

Both the teams went into the halftime break tied at 0-0, and Goa were handed over another blow. Their chief playmaker Moura had to be substituted during the break, after the Brazilian picked up a knock he could not recover from. Moura was replaced by Haokip, and in hindsight, it worked out well for them.

In the 52nd minute, Halder hacked down Mendoza inside the box with a mindless tackle, and the referee pointed to the spot. Bruno Pelissari stepped up to take the shot, and his initial effort was saved by the goalkeeper.But the Brazilian was the first to reach the rebound and turned it in into an empty net.

The lead, however, lasted only five minutes, as Haokip scored the equalizer. Chennaiyin left back Dhanachandra Singh was caught out of his position and a huge gap opened up on Goa's right wing. Romeo sprinted down that side, and was picked out by Lucca. The Indian winger drilled in a low, and hard, cross and somehow, and the ball evaded a host of Chennaiyin defenders in the box, before reaching Haokip at the far post, who had the simple task of tapping it in.

Couple of minutes later, Chennaiyin wasted a brilliant chance to take back the lead, as Mendoza failed to score from a penalty. Jeje and Mendoza combined beautifully to get behind the Goa defence, and the league's top scorer was brought down by an aggressive challenge from the goalkeeper, who came off his line.

The referee awarded Chennaiyin their second penalty kick, but Kattimani kept it out with a heroic save.

With the home support lifting their team, Goa found the crucial second goal they were looking for in the 86th minute. Jofre beat Edel with a powerful free-kick, as he picked out a gaping hole in the Chennaiyin wall. The goal sent the home crowd into ruptures, and they could virtually visualize the trophy being lifted by Zico and his men.

Chennaiyin, however, had other plans though, as Kattimani, who saved Goa with some fantastic saves throughout the game, scored an own goal in the 90th minute. The goalkeeper came off his line to punch a long ball from the back, but under pressure from Mendoza, he only managed to punch it into his own goal.

Goa fans and players were left stunned, but even before they could recover from this shock, Mendoza scored the winner. The forward received a pass from the left wing and got past Arnolin with a fantastic piece of skill. The striker kept his calm and slipped the ball past the stranded goalkeeper to score his 13th goal of the season, and the most important one in the history of Chennaiyin FC. (Read: Chennaiyin captain Elano arrested)

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