Hosts FC Goa may be the favourites but a good track record at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium will boost Chennaiyin FC’s confidence as the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) is all set for a fascinating final on Sunday.
Chennaiyin have won both their matches here since the start of the ISL last year and were brilliant in their 4-0 victory at the same venue at the start of this season. The victory provides Chennaiyin with a psychological edge ahead of the final clash but rival coaches were dismissive of any advantage in such an important clash.
Goa were found wanting in that league clash but Zico said there was no reason to change Goa’s strategy in the final.
“I think there is no reason to change the game. We have come so far playing this way so we will play the same way,” said Zico during the pre-match media briefing on Saturday.
“I think we know the team well but we have lost two times. But the final is different. The ground is same, the ball is same. It’s 50-50 for both teams,” added the Brazilian.
Zico led Goa to the semi-finals last year too. A virtuoso on the field in his playing days, his philosophy of offence-minded football has clearly rubbed off on his team.
They topped the goal scoring list in the group phase with 29 goals – memorable among them being a 7-0 annihilation of Mumbai City FC to notch up ISL’s biggest win.
Zico has granted full attacking freedom to his frontmen Dudu, Thongkhosiem Haokip and Reinaldo. But their yearning for goals are not limited to their frontmen.
He has instilled a sense of self-belief in his players that has seen the likes of home-grown players Mandar Rao Dessai and Romeo Fernandes revel in their wide midfield roles.
Goa lost 0-1 in the first leg of the semi-final against Delhi Dynamos but overwhelmed Roberto Carlos’ men with three goals in the second leg to be through to the final on a 3-1 aggregate.
One footballer who holds the key is Stiven Mendoza, who has previously scored a hat-trick against Goa. The Colombian striker is leading the race for the Golden Boot with 12 goals and should be able to make all the difference.
“I don’t think the clash is between Mendoza and Lucio. It’s not a tennis match. The clash is between Goa and Chennai,” said Goa marquee Lucio on being asked how he would find a way to stop the Colombian striker.
Chennaiyin have had a great run winning five of the last six matches. They only lost to Atletico de Kolkata in the second leg semi-final but had done enough in the first leg to see them through.
“We were defeated in the last game. Twenty days ago, we were almost eliminated. We were fighting to survive. Now, despite our win here, it’s a 50-50 game,” said Chennaiyin’s Italian head coach Marco Materazzi.
None of the teams have any latest injury concerns with Brazilian midfielder Raphael Augusto missing for Chennaiyin, while Goa have remained tightlipped over the availability of Brazilian striker Reinaldo. Defender Raju Gaekwad is ruled out with an injury.
Chennaiyin marquee player Elano Blumer said they had an added motivation to win the ISL trophy.
“It’s a sad story with the floods in Chennai. We are with the people of Chennai. For sure, the team will play along and for the people of Chennai,” said Elano.
The match will also see a battle for the Golden Glove award with Edel Bete (Chennaiyin FC) and Laxmikant Kattimani (FC Goa) both in contention for the best goalkeeper’s award.