Amrinder Singh, armband around his bicep, leads Mumbai City in prayer. Next to him Sergio Lobera is fervently drawing crosses. The deities being called up on might be different, but the messages are the same. ‘HELP’. After 210 minutes of high-voltage, end-to-end football spread over three days, the scores are level. You could argue FC Goa have been the better side, but anyone of a Mumbai persuasion would merely respond with a nod to the scoreboard. 0-0 A.E.T (Agg. 2-2).
Penalties it is.
Amrinder, pumped, fistbumping anyone and everyone in light blue around him, is ready. He had kept them in the game with a series of stunning saves in the preceding 120 minutes, and he was going to win them the match in the shootout.
But wait, there’s movement on the Mumbai bench. Is this really happening?
It is. Amrinder Singh, captain of the team that won the ISL League Shield, best keeper in this season’s tournament, and one of the two best keepers in the country at the moment, is substituted for 23-year-old Phurba Lachenpa — Real Kashmir keeper last season, getting his first minutes of this ISL. After the final whistle.
And that was just the start.
Welcome to the most madcap quarter-hour of football of the 2020-21 ISL season..
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Edu Bedia, captain of FC Goa is first, Phurba Lachenpa (remember – THIS IS HIS FIRST GAME THIS SEASON) facing him.
Before the shootout began, Amrinder had — in a wonderful show of leadership — ran on and given him a big hug, the sting of the substitution pushed down. Now, Lachenpa faced the man who usually takes all of Goa’s set-pieces outside the box.
Two steps, a stutter, a third step and then a weak shot to Lachenpa’s right… the debutant saves comfortably. Amrinder roars as loud as his replacement.
Juan Ferrando, meanwhile, had pulled a ‘Tim Krul’ just before ET ended, subbing off Dheeraj Singh for Naveen Kumar. It was Kumar then, who looked Bart Ogbeche in the eye as the latter stepped up for Mumbai’s first pen. A confident stride, and Ogbeche sends Kumar the wrong way.
Brandon Fernandes, out injured for the vast majority of this season. India’s premier set-piece specialist. Smashes it against the outside of the post and out. Mumbai lead 1-0.
Hernan Santana, defensive rock, telegraphs his intentions and hits it at a very saveable height. Naveen obliges. Score remains 1-0, Mumbai.
Igor Angulo, goal poacher extraoirdinaire, tied atop the golden boot race with Roy Krishna. Low, hard, bottom corner, no mistake. Score’s level at 1-1.
Hugo Boumous. Irrepressible, cocky, goalscorer in the first leg but largely quiet in the second. Whacks it straight down the middle — the percentages save the goalkeeper dives, so safe bet? The percentages lie — because it’s that kind of night. Kumar calls his bluff, stands tall and disdainfully raises a right fist to block it away. Score remains 1-1.
Ivan Gonzalez. Man of the match. Immense in shutting down Mumbai’s left flank. A couple of steps and smack into the bottom corner. Goa lead, 2-1.
Raynier Fernandes. Central midfielder in the first leg. Winger in the second. Largely anonymous in both. He stutters to the ball, before placing it just to the right of the keeper. It’s not a great penalty, but Kumar dives the wrong way. Scores level 2-2.
James Donachie. Superb at the back. An inch away from winning the whole shebang in the last second of the regulation 90. Races up, sends the keeper the wrong way, and the ball just over the crossbar. Scores level, 2-2.
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Ahmed Jahouh. Languid. Almost bored-looking. Lobera’s philosophiser in chief. One kick away from sending Mumbai to the final. Hits it at medium height, at medium distance from centre and keeper’s right hand post. Easily saved. Scores level, 2-2.
Sudden death is upon us.
Ishan Pandita. Rarely-misses-a-chance-Ishan-Pandita. Inexplicably not in the top 5 penalty kickers for Goa. Races onto the ball, head up, and passes it into the bottom corner, having sent the keeper the wrong way. Wouldn’t have made a difference if he’d dived the right way. Goa lead, 3-2.
Amey Ranawade. Suspended for the first leg and superb in this. Steps up, waits for Kumar to dive, and calmly passes it to the other side. 3-3.
Jorge Ortiz. Ran Mumbai’s full backs ragged in the first leg, ran their centre-backs into the ground in this. Three steps, passes it in, Lachenpa dives the wrong way. 4-3, Goa lead.
Mourtada Fall. Goa’s tormentor in the first leg. Rarely misses with his head. Rarely gets to use his feet in the opposition box. Can he?
Boy, can he ever. A slow walk-up, a stutter, and he smashes it into the bottom corner. Not the side to which Kumar dived. Emphatic. Score’s 4-4.
Adil Khan. Immense in defense. Joint contender for MOTM with Gonzalez. Two steps and it’s hit at saveable height, at a saveable distance. But it has just enough oomph to flick the fingertips of Lachenpa and slam into the net.
He celebrates by rocking an imaginary baby at the TV. Congratulations to him and the Mrs. Game’s not over yet, though. Goa lead 5-4.
Mandar Rao Dessai. Former captain of FC Goa. Now senior left-back at Mumbai City. Takes an unconventional zig-zag approach to the ball. Nothing unconventional about the strike though — Kumar guesses correctly, but it’s smashed so hard the net is almost taken off. Where were these guys in the first ten pens? Score’s 5-5.
Glan Martins. Scorer of one of the goals of the season. Local lad, transferred mid-season to his hometown club. A lovely story. The pen, though? Side-footed well wide. Score’s 5-5.
Up steps a Goan, because, of course it had to be a Goan. Rowllin Borges strides forward. No-nonsense, four steps, smacked into the bottom corner. MUMBAI WIN 6-5.
He stands on the spot, pointing to his badge, blowing a kiss, putting his fingers into his ears in the universal ‘shut-the-haters-up’ symbol. Within seconds, though, he’s mobbed as the Mumbai squad race onto his back to celebrate.
Goa, dejected, worn out, lay scattered across the Bambolim pitch. Lobera takes turns — jumping with his Mumbai players, consoling those Goa players he’d coached for almost three years.
And so after 210 minutes and eighteen kicks of the football (some good, some bad, some definitely ugly), Mumbai City are through to their first ever ISL final. Oh, the drama.
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