Last year's League Winner FC Goa will face the newly crowned champion Mumbai City FC in the first semifinal of the Indian Super League (ISL 2020-21) at the Fatorda Stadium in Margao on Friday.
This first-leg clash will pit MCFC coach Sergio Lobera against his former employer, FCG, yet again. The Islanders on Sunday became the second team to lift the ISL Shield after edging out ATK Mohun Bagan on head-to-head record.
FC Goa vs Mumbai City FC:LIVE BLOG
Lobera's men, alongside ATKMB, also matched Bengaluru FC's 2017/18 record for the most points (40) accumulated in a single ISL season. Meanwhile, the Gaurs will be featuring in the tournament's playoffs for a record-extending sixth time in seven years.
Goa head coach Juan Ferrando had a tough task in hand when he took over the club's reigns. Several experienced stars had departed, and there was a lot of business to be done in the transfer market.
FCG had no wins in its opening three games and its chances of making the playoffs looked bleak after managing eight points from seven encounters. But from there, Ferrando's side went on a 13-game unbeaten streak -- an ISL record for longest undefeated streak -- and sealed the spot.
"We started the season a little uneven in results, but we've entered the playoffs now. The biggest challenge was maintaining the commitment to demand the maximum of ourselves every day, despite the short pre-season, living in special circumstances (bio-bubble) and being under the pressure of results with a young team," said Ferrando on match eve.
The Spanish trio of Igor Angulo (13 goals), Alberto Noguera (one goal, eight assists) and Jorge Ortiz (six goals, one assist) have been central to Goa's progress so far.
"Igor, with his experience and work rate, has allowed us to play attacking football. Ortiz is an example of hard work and perseverance both in games and training. Noguera is undoubtedly the best midfielder in the league. I could spend hours talking about them," Ferrando added.
Speaking about the Gaurs' chances in the playoffs, the 40-year-old gaffer said: "I don’t think about how difficult a rival is, but about how to prepare the team to overcome a game. The next match will be a challenge because of injuries and cards, but I see it as another opportunity to continue improving."
On the other hand, MCFC was one of the favourites this time around. The team, majorly-owned by the City Football Group, claimed the first piece of silverware in its short history with some eye-catching football, otherwise known as 'Lobera-ball', on display.
"I'm very happy because CFG gave us everything, and now is the time to analyse the things we've achieved. I think my players deserved to win the shield, and hopefully, we can achieve another trophy. It means a lot to be playing in the AFC Champions League," the Spanish boss claimed.
The likes of Adam le Fondre (11 goals, one assist), Bartholomew Ogbeche (eight goals, two assists) and Hugo Boumous (two goals, seven assists) will be key for the Islanders.
"Facing Goa won’t make any difference for me. Now, I am in Mumbai City. We’re professionals, and we play the game the same way. Whichever team we face, we have to win the semifinal. It will be a tough game tomorrow, and we need to be prepared for it," added Lobera.
A stoppage-time penalty from Le Fondre gave MCFC a win when the two sides met for the first time this season, while Ishan Pandita's late equaliser rescued a point for FCG in the reverse fixture.
Goa will be without four players for the first leg. The list includes the injured duo of Brandon Fernandes, Seriton Fernandes and the suspended Noguera, Ivan Gonzalez.
Amey Ranawade is out for Mumbai after picking up his fourth booking of the season, while Boumous will return after serving a four-game suspension.