Goa fends off Chennaiyin’s threat in a 2-1 win to qualify for the semi-final

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Brandon Fernandes scored one of Goa’s two goals

Goa became the fourth and last team to qualify for the semi-finals of the 2023/24 Indian Super League, thanks to a 2-1 win over Chennaiyin at the Fatorda Stadium on Saturday. Noah Sadaoui and Brandon Fernandes scored for the Gaurs, while Lazar Cirkovic was the lone scorer for the Marina Machans.

Goa head coach Manolo Marquez Roca made four changes to his team that won 4-1 against Chennaiyin in their last league game. Odei Onaindia, Nim Dorjee Tamang, Rowllin Borges, and Mohammed Yasir were handed starts as Seriton Fernandes, Narayan Das, Ayush Dev Chhetri, and Borja Herrera made way for them respectively.

On the other hand, Chennaiyin head coach Owen Coyle made as many as six changes. Debjit Majumder, Ankit Mukherjee, Aakash Sangwan, Vincy Barretto, Farukh Choudhary, and Jordan Murray got starts, at the expense of Samit Mitra, Bikash Yumnam, the suspended Sachu Siby, Cristian Battocchio, Ninthoinganba Meetei, and Irfan Yadwad.

Unlike the first knockout, this match had a brisk start as it took only a few seconds for the first big chance, although it came from a mistake. Rahim Ali tried to find a defender from his team but ended up giving the ball to Sadaoui, who could not get any sort of power on his shot.

The Moroccan was in the thick of things again in the 9th minute when he made a clever run between Ryan Edwards and Mukherjee and then got a pass from Boris Singh Thangjam. However, Sadaoui’s shot was saved by Debjit.

The Gaurs kept on putting pressure on the Chennaiyin goal and had another attempt to open the scoring in the 24th minute. Debjit parried away a cross for Jay Gupta but it landed at the feet of Carl McHugh, whose shot was saved by the goalkeeper. Two minutes later, Sadaoui and Fernandes pulled the trigger but the Chennaiyin defense was alert both times.

The continuous press finally paid off in the 36th minute as Goa took a much-deserved lead in the tie. It all started when Sadaoui and Fernandes attempted a one-two, but the Indian midfielder’s chipped ball was cleared away by Sangwan. Fortunately for the Gaurs, McHugh reached the rebound before anyone could and somehow recycled it back on Sadaoui’s path, whose shot got a hand from Debjit but such was the power that it still found its way into the back of the net.

Fernandes’ goal could be in contention for the ‘Goal of the Season’

Goa’s second goal falls under the world-class category and should be in contention to be the goal of the season. From the left flank, Gupta played out a ball from the deep which found Fernandes who then beat his marker Jiteshwor Singh and seeing acres of space ahead of him, launched a shot precisely into the top corner, beyond the grasp of Debjit.

But that was not the last action of the game as Chennaiyin pulled a goal back in additional time. From a Sangwan corner, Edwards did well to beat his marker Onaindia before trying to find Farukh with a header, but it was intercepted by Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem. It should have been an easy grab for the goalkeeper but he spilled it into the feet of Cirkovic, who was in no mood to reject an unexpected gift.

Although Goa’s backline was usually pretty solid, set-pieces created all sorts of confusion. Sangwan delivered another peach of a corner in the 47th minute and this time Cirkovic jumped the highest, but the Serbian centre-back could not increase his goal tally as his header was wayward.

Four minutes later, Goa almost got their two-goal cushion back when Sadaoui’s pass found Carlos Martinez in a dangerous position, who then laid it off for Gupta. The left-back shot was initially spilled by Debjit but the goalkeeper collected the ball before the onrushing Borges could react.

Chennaiyin’s biggest chance of the game came in the 58th minute when Ali threaded a sublime ball for Barretto, who had made a run between Tamang and Gupta. Dheeraj did well to come out timely and clear the danger, but the ball fell at the feet of Murray, who had his first attempt blocked by Gupta and his second attempt blocked by Tamang.

The next chance came in the 75th minute and once again a corner from Sangwan found the Goa defense scrambling. This time the ball reached Edwards, who managed to direct the header towards the back post. Dheeraj had already come out of his goal and the ball seemed to be going in for an equalizer, but Onaindia got it cleared off the line to keep his team ahead in the game.

Chennaiyin tried hard to get the equalizer in the last few minutes but they could not create openings. Instead, Goa had a chance of scoring their third goal from a Fernandes corner in the 78th minute, which was initially headed clear by Rafael Crivellaro but then found McHugh. The Irish midfielder tried an acrobatic header, but could not test Debjit with his attempt.

But unlike McHugh, Sadaoui did test the Chennaiyin goalkeeper in the 91st minute. Onaindia played out a long ball from the back and the former Maccabi Haifa player was quick to react to it. He then went past Yumnam with ease but then had his shot saved by Debjit.

Goa will be taking on the runners-up of the league stage Mumbai City in the semi-final. The first leg will be played in Goa on Wednesday while the second leg will be held in Mumbai next Monday.