FC Goa take on Chennaiyin FC in title decider

"We are the two best teams in the league," was the message emphatically conveyed by the two managers – FC Goa’s Zico and Chennaiyin FC’s Marco Materazzi – on the eve of the Indian Super League final at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Fatorda on Saturday.

(From left to right) Lucio , Zico, Marco Materazzi and Elano greeting each other during the pre-match press conference.   -  V. Sreenivasa Murthy

In sport, one is always tempted to look for wider patterns. More so in a final, so that a broader story could be spun and a finer narrative shaped. What’s the reason the two teams contesting final have ended up there?

“We are the two best teams in the league,” was the message emphatically conveyed by the two managers – FC Goa’s Zico and Chennaiyin FC’s Marco Materazzi – on the eve of the Indian Super League final at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Fatorda on Saturday. “So it is going to be a cracking final.”

While it does lend a tinge of intrigue, sport does tend to defy such structured analysis. After the singing of familiar paeans to each other by the two managers, and then by the marquee players in Lucio (Goa) and Elano (Chennai), about how attacking and how meritorious both the teams were – which to be fair, are indeed facts – a belated admission of how such matches can also turn out crept in.

“Concentration and fewer mistakes,” said Elano when asked what could be the deciding factors. “Concentration and balance,” said Lucio. “More focus and less distraction,” said Zico. “Details and luck,” said Materazzi.

In fact, this is where the intrigue lies. If ever there had to be two sides to execute such a strategy, these are the ones. Both have erred at different points – like Goa getting beaten 4-0 at home by Chennai and then Chennai being on the verge of elimination at one stage. But both have learnt from mistakes, devised effective plans and as a result improved – like Goa beating Chennai away 2-0 and then the latter going on a bull run of five consecutive wins.

Of the two teams Goa looks the more well-rounded. The way questions were framed in the media session was more than indicative of that. Even as Zico and Lucio were asked as to how they are going to stop John Stiven Mendoza, nothing similar was directed at Materazzi.

But the manner in which Materazzi was able to dip into his squad in the first leg of the semifinal, even in the absence of the highly influential mid-fielder Raphael Augusto, first-choice right-back Mehrajuddin Wadoo and Elano, does suggest that Chennai isn’t too far behind.

For Goa, defender Raju Gaekwad is unlikely to play but striker Reinaldo, scorer of seven goals is in contention after recovering from a muscle strain. On the other hand, manager Materazzi confirmed that there were no fresh injuries.

“What’s crucial in the final is heart,” said Materazzi. “We are ready to fight. 90 minutes or 120.”