Two playoff front runners at the bottom end of the playoff zone, Odisha FC and FC Goa, will face each other in a crunch encounter of the Indian Super League at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Monday.
The teams are separated by three points, and the winner will establish a much-needed cushion - but the loser could potentially fall behind a resurgent Bengaluru FC side which is prowling at the edge of the battle for sixth.
As the business end of the season is well and truly here, Odisha will yearn for the form it displayed during the first half. The Juggernauts won six out of their first eight games this season. However, in its previous eight matches, the team has only one win.
Last week, it shared the spoils with Chennaiyin FC in a tightly-contested 2-2 draw. Diego Mauricio is a goal away from taking his season’s goal tally to double digits. The Brazilian has scored four goals in the last four games, cementing his place in the starting lineup.
Head coach Josep Gombau will be pleased to have Raynier Fernandes back from a short injury layoff. The midfielder came off the bench last week.
“It is a very important game which we are playing at home against a team that is our rival on the table. Goa has won its last two games and the next game is like a final. A good result is very important for both teams in this playoff race,” said Gombau. “We are in the position where we wanted to be at the start of the season. We always wanted to fight for the playoffs and now we are,” he added.
If it wants to pick up all three points, Goa will have to do something it has not done all season - win three consecutive ISL games. Additionally, Goa’s record away from home has not been impressive, as it has only won two out of eight games.
Goa has scored seven goals in the last two games. Iker Guarrotxena’s hat trick helped the Gaurs down East Bengal FC 4-2 last week. The Spaniard is still the league’s top scorer and is in line to start the game against Odisha.
New signing Hernan Santana could be in the squad as well. The Spaniard has been roped in to replace the injured Marc Valiente. The Gaurs also signed Nikhil Prabhu from their next opponents, while Princeton Rebello has gone the other way.
“I am happy that Hernan is with us and he is absolutely fit and ready to help the team. He is a versatile player who knows the style of football we play and is comfortable with the ball,” said head coach Carlos Pena. “It is a very important game for them [(Odisha) and they will be under pressure after being in the playoff spots all season and struggling to hold onto that now. But, at home, they are a very strong team. It will be a tough game for both sides”, he added.
In the previous seven encounters between these two sides, Goa has won five times, and two games have ended in draws. Odisha is yet to win a game against the Gaurs in the ISL.