On November 18, when Chennaiyin FC lost 1-2 against Atletico de Kolkata in their away game at the Salt Lake Stadium, they slid to the bottom of league table. It was Chennai’s second loss against the defending champions after the 2-3 home defeat in the inaugural match of the new season. Later, Chennaiyin FC suffered some more heartbreaking losses peppered with a few wins here and there. That was the time, when even Chennai’s most ardent supporters wouldn’t have wagered their money on their team making it to the semifinals, let alone reaching the final. Last year, Chennai had topped the points’ table before crashing out in the semifinals. But for the Southern India team, the latter part of the 2015 ISL brought an amazing turnaround and they are now just one match away from winning the 2015 trophy. On December 12, Chennai defeated ATK 3-0 at home and despite their 1-2 loss in the second leg semifinal on December 16, they emerged as finalist with a 4-2 aggregate score. Chennai’s opponent in final on December 20 will be FC Goa, who have stayed within the top four for the better part of 2015 ISL and they can easily be tagged as the worthy finalists. Goa lost the first semifinal 0-1 against Delhi Dynamos but in the second semifinal at the Fatorda stadium on December 15, they made amends, scored a 3-0 win and sailed into the final on 3-1 aggregate. The second successful ISL season is now down to its very last match at Fatorda stadium in Margaon, Goa on Sunday.
Marco Materazzi, Abhishek Bachchan and Mahendra Singh Dhoni must be the happiest three-some after their franchise Chennaiyin FC staged a brilliant recovery to reach the final of 2015 Hero Indian Super League. While there was no dearth of talent in their ranks, Chennai lost their way early in the league and after 10 matches out of a total of 14, they languished at the bottom. However, in the next four games, Chennaiyin made up for all the earlier lapses and entered the semifinals. It all began with Chennai’s 11th league game against Kerala Blasters on November 21. The star that night was Stiven Mendoza, who scored his second hat-trick of the season in Chennai’s 4-1 win. On November 24, Chennai played another forceful game against highly-rated Delhi Dynamos in an emphatic 4-0 home win. They followed these two victories by two more in their last two league games. On December 01, Chennai scored a 3-0 home victory against Mumbai City FC and 1-0 away victory against Pune on December 05. With four consecutive wins in the last four matches, Chennai jumped from the bottom to the third place.
Chennai played their first-leg semifinal against Atletico de Kolkata at Pune because torrential rains had made the Chennai stadium unfit for play. In a match that Chennai won 3-0, they also became the only team to have recorded five consecutive victories. The first goal came from a breathtaking 40-yard free-kick from Bruno Pelissari in 38th minute before Jeje Lalpekhlua in 57th and Stiven Mendoza in 68th minute made it 3-0 for Chennai. With 12 goals this season, Mendoza is already the tournament’s top-scorer. In the return leg semifinal in Kolkata on December 16, ATK had a tough task of first overhauling the 0-3 first-leg deficit and then go for the goal required to enter the final. That didn’t happen even as ATK created a 2-0 advantage from goals by Dejan Lekic and Iain Hume in either half but Chennai went through with a 4-2 aggregate, when Fikru Teferra scored a stoppage time goal.
In the first-leg of the other semifinal between FC Goa and Delhi Dynamos on December 11 at Delhi, the home side, defeated FC Goa 1-0, when Robin Singh’s 45th minute header to a beautiful cross from skipper Chicao found the net. The second half remained goalless despite both sides making valiant attempts on each other’s goals. Delhi visited Margaon for the return-leg semifinal on December 15 but tables were turned on them with Zico’s side playing spirited football in a do-or-die match. Goa attacked from start and wiped out the first-leg deficit with a goal in the 11th minute, when Joffre picked up the ball on the right flank and went solo to finish with a decisive low shot. Goa went in front in 27th minute, when Rafael Coelho collected a long ball and beat the Delhi goalkeeper with a hard right-footed strike. The second half of the match was mostly spent in both teams trying to defend their goals. But in 84th minute, Goa FC sealed Delhi’s fate, when Joffre’s cross came to Dudu via Romeo Fernandez and Dudu was not found wanting. With a 3-0 finish, Goa made it 3-1 on aggregate and sailed into the 2015 Hero ISL final.
On Sunday December 20, Fatorda Stadium will witness the Grand Finale of 2015 Hero Indian Super League between Goa FC and the charged-up Chennaiyin FC. It will be the last acid test for Zico’s Goa, who have had a great season thus far, losing only 4 games out of 16 including the semifinals. Goa obviously have the home advantage but they cannot relax because it was Chennaiyin FC, who had handed them a 4-0 home drubbing in a league game on October 11. Though Chennai remained laggards until late in the season, they have since recovered smartly by winning 5 out of their last 6 matches. In the crunch game, Chennai will like to keep that momentum going just as Goa FC would try to justify their top league-finish. It will also be like watching a proxy war between India’s ODI captain MS Dhoni and test captain Virat Kohli, the co-owners of Chennai and Goa respectively.