NorthEast United seals the qualification berth from Group D, Mumbai City miss out on the semis
NorthEast United makes its way into the Final Four of the 2023 Super Cup with a thumping 6-3 triumph over Churchill Brothers at Payyanad Stadium of Manjeri. Meanwhile, Mumbai City loses the semi-final race to the Highlanders on goal difference despite edging past the southern powerhouse Chennaiyin by 1-0 in the final Group D fixture.
NorthEast trounce Churchill Brothers 6-3 to claim the qualification ticket to the semi-finals
NorthEast United made a couple of necessary changes in the starting XI but retained the 4-2-3-1 formation in the hope of sustaining their winning momentum furthermore. Mashoor Shereef replaced Alex Saji in the heart of the defense while the French winger Romain Philippoteaux returned to partner with Wilmar Jordan at front.
On the other hand, the high-spirited Red Machines also proceeded to make two changes in their 4-4-2 with an ultimate aim to finish the Super Cup journey on high. The interim manager Mateus Costa came up with the two changes in the midfield unit and handed starts to the Uzbek attacking midfielder Sardor Jakhonov and a budding talent Mamit Duata.
The high-voltage action of Matchday 11 commenced with the gameplay initiated by the Highlanders in all-whites taking on Churchill Brothers donning traditional home colors at EMS Stadium of Kozhikode.
The Highlanders started making progressive moves right from the kick-off whistle in search of early breakthroughs and also succeeded in it quite early. The first goal of the game came in the 27th minute through a stunning long-ranging strike from the NorthEast United skipper Wilmar Jordan Gil from out of the 25-yard box.
When the Goan outfit was about to wind up for the half-time break, Jordan once again graced the scoresheet to make it 2-0 before the halt. The 32-year-old Colombian outwitted an out-of-position goalkeeper Nora Fernandes in the 43rd minute to net his second goal of the night.
The gaffer of the I-League club must have passed special instructions to his defense to cut the wings of Wilmar Jordan however, each and every tactic to stop him miserably failed. NEU’s Captain Fantastic added two more goals to his name within the first 25 minutes of the second half and brought his individual tournament tally to six goals in three appearances.
Later on, Kerala forwards duo of Gani Nigam (79′) and Jithin MS (89′) joined the party to finish it off on the final scoreline of 6-3. Despite trailing down by 0-3 at one stage, the Goa-based I-League outfit managed to keep their heads up and eventually succeeded in taking three goals back.
The 25-year home-grown central midfielder Kingslee Fernandes opened the scoreline for the Red Machines just three minutes after Jordan’s hat-trick goal. Then an incredible free-kick strike from the former Highlanders’ playmaker Martin Chaves and an 83rd-minute one-goal from Mohammad Irshad helped Churchill Brothers to reduce the losing deficit.
Mumbai City emerges victorious by 1-0 but falls short of knockouts qualification on goal difference
Des Buckingham continued with an all-Indian lineup but went on to make three changes for the do-or-die clash. The youngsters Halen Nongtdu and Ayush Chhikara got their cut in the Islanders’ starting lineup while Amey Ranawade made his long-awaited return to the matchday squad after 7 months.
Mumbai’s first-choice goalkeeper Phurba Lachenpa previously suffered a minor injury as Mohammad Nawaz stood as the guardian in the absence of the Sikkimese stalwart.
The Marina Machans’ gaffer Thomas Brdaric made his first change of the tournament by replacing Kwame Karikari with the fan-favorite Abdenasser El Khayati. The 34-year-old Dutch magician lined up in Machans’ colors for the kick-off to make his maiden Super Cup appearance on Wednesday.
Chennaiyin graced the Manjeri battlefield wearing away white colors while the Islanders also donned all-black away kits. The Marina Machans kick-started the action with an aggressive intent to find a rapid breakthrough as Rahim Ali’s first attempt at the Islanders’ goal in the 14th minute proved it. It was followed by Mumbai’s turn when a 22nd-minute indirect free-kick taken by the midfielder Rowlinn Borges was denied by the wall guarding Chennaiyin’s goal.
However, the Machans’ defense couldn’t keep the Mumbai offensive unit silent for a long time as they somehow managed to open the scoreline in the 32nd minute. It was the 20-year-old attacking sensation Ayush Chhikara who tapped the ball inside the opposition goal to register his debut goal for the Maharashtrian outfit.
The defensive forces of both combatants displayed solid performance in the latter half as we could not see any further goals in the game. Chennaiyin came close to earning the equalizer on multiple occasions but failed to capitalize on it as Ayush’s first half later turned out to be the winning goal in a 1-0 saga.
Mumbai City managed to equalize NorthEast United’s tally of six points but their inability to score more than one goal in the final group fixture allowed their counterparts to advance to the knockout round. The Highlanders have qualified for the semi-final stages of the Super Cup for the first time and will be heading toward the preparations for the penultimate clash with Odisha at the same venue on Saturday.