ISL: Rock-bottom Goa desperate for win against Mumbai

It perhaps has a lot to do with the ever-shifting nature of squads in the ISL, but what a difference a year makes. A year on, Goa seems a shadow of that free-scoring, confident outfit as it sits glued to the bottom of the ISL table (10 points), with the knock-outs a great distance away.

Sunil Chhetri, who returned from AFC Cup duty last week, featured for the first time this season in Thursday’s loss to FC Pune City and will improve his understanding with Diego Forlan.   -  G. P. Sampath Kumar

It perhaps has a lot to do with the ever-shifting nature of squads in the ISL, but what a difference a year makes. Last season, FC Goa walloped Mumbai City FC 7-0 in Margao, in what is still a record margin for the ISL. Dudu Omagbemi and T. Haokip both completed hat-tricks that night as Zico’s men illuminated the competition with their attacking play.

A year on, Goa seems a shadow of that free-scoring, confident outfit. Dudu and Haokip have moved elsewhere while Goa sits glued to the bottom of the ISL table (10 points), with the knock-outs a great distance away. Mumbai, on the other hand, is in third place (at the time of writing) with 15 points, only two off the top of the standings. It is thus hard to miss the contrast to last winter as the two sides prepare to meet at the Fatorda Stadium here on Wednesday.

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Despite its current situation, Goa will have derived much encouragement from its victory over NorthEast United against all odds last week. Missing four key overseas players through suspension — with the Disciplinary Committee’s decision on two of them announced only hours before kick-off — Zico started with nine Indian players. He had only four men on the bench, two of whom were goalkeepers. When Sahil Tavora was sent off some 20 minutes from the end, all seemed lost.

Romeo Fernandes, however, wiped away all that grief with a last-gasp winner. Zico will hope to see more of that same spirit in his side; it will help that Gregory Arnolin and Richarlyson Barbosa are available for selection again after serving their one-match bans. Defenders Luciano Sobrosa and Rafael Dumas, though, remain ineligible.

It leaves Goa, which fielded an all-Indian back-four over NEUFC, looking shaky in defence against a Mumbai side with huge attacking potential. Sunil Chhetri, who returned from AFC Cup duty last week, featured for the first time this season in Thursday’s loss to FC Pune City. He will improve his understanding with Diego Forlan as the days go by.

Sony Norde missed the Maharashtra derby through injury, but he is expected to be available for this tie. “Before we travelled here, I thought I had all players ready. But I don’t. We have some situations to solve with key players. We have to wait. I don’t know who’s going to start,” said Alexandre Guimaraes. The Mumbai coach opted not to field Amrinder Singh in goal against Pune; he could use him here, particularly after Albino Gomes’s display on Thursday.

Mumbai will be wary of losing a second straight game at this stage of the season; defeat will put it on a slippery slope. Goa, for its part, needs to win its four remaining matches to have a serious chance of progress. “All the games ahead of us are a must-win now,” said Zico. “Every game is a final.”

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