Kerala Blasters beat FC Goa by 2-1
FC Goa decided to not make any changes to the starting XI that earned them their first win of the competition, meaning marquee signing Lucio missed out on a start despite being fit. Raju Gaikwad, Gregory Arnolin and Rafael Dumas constituted the three-man defense with Keenan Almeida and Richarlyson Barbosa operating as wing-backs. Pratesh Shirodkar earned his second start of the season in midfield alongside Trindade Goncalves and the trio of Jofre Mateu, Julio Cesar and Robin Singh were entrusted with attacking responsibilities.
Kerala Blasters made no changes either from their previous game. The duo of Cedric Hengbart and Aaron Hughes featured at the heart of the defense with Sandesh Jihinghan and Josu Currias operating as full-backs. Mehtab Hossain, Mohammed Rafique and the impressive Azrack Mahamat anchored the midfield and the likes of Kervens Belfort, Michael Chopra and Mohammed Rafi started in attack.
Julio Cesar gave The Gaurs a 24th minute lead, but Mohammed Rafi (46′) and Kervens Belfort (84′) ensured that Steve Coppell’s men picked three points on their travel to the scenic city of Goa.
A game that featured two defensively astute sides got off to an expectedly cagey start. Neither side could hold on to the ball long enough to create chances from open play and the fact that the first chance of the game arrived in the 20th minute from a set-piece from Kerala was testament to it.
However, the home side were working their socks off and were rewarded for their industry when Julio Cesar headed home the opener in the 24th minute. It was Richarlyson Barbosa’s cross from the left that FC Goa’s number 99 got on the end of and headed past Sandip Nandy. Cesar’s movement to ghost in between Aaron Hughes and Josu to score the goal was impressive.
One of the Blasters’ many strengths is capitalizing from set-piece situations, and they very nearly made good use of Mehtab’s 35th minute free-kick when Sandesh Jhinghan rose high to a meet it but Subhasish Roy Choudhary was able to scramble to his far post and make a save.
The Blasters were visibly determined to get back into the game and looked to have made inroads with a penalty appeal in the 38th minute, but the referee said nothing doing, waving away all protests.
Despite all of Kerala’s attempts, the home side maintained the lead going into the interval courtesy of some solid defensive work and it looked like the Tuskers needed the Gaurs to slip up, and that is exactly what happened shortly into the second period.
At half-time, Zico took off Jofre Mateu for Lucio, with the Selecao legend slotting into defensive midfield. Zico played his hand at trying to fortify his side’s defense, but little did he know of the events that were on the precipice of unfolding.
Kerala levelled proceedings courtesy of Mohammed Rafi’s tap-in just 20 seconds into the half. A diagonal ball from Hengbart meant Rafique was through on the right and put in an inch-perfect ball across the face of the goal to find Rafi who made no mistake and buried it.
Courtesy of Goa’s modus operandi of sitting deep, Kerala had the elephant’s share of possession in the second half but they had little to show for it as they could not create many clear cut opportunities.
Julio Cesar, who was FC Goa’s stand-out player by a country-mile, went close to doubling his tally on the night in the 62nd minute, when the Brazilian tested Sandip Nandy from 25 yards out but the latter was up to the task.
Robin Singh was deployed as the lone forward by Zico and with the withdrawal of Jofre Mateu, Singh became isolated from the play. He did not have the best of games and winning his first aerial dual in the 68th minute summed up his performance. Robin was taken off by Zico and Romeo Fernandes was introduced to five Goa more pace in attack.
In a comic turn of events, Gregory Arnolin hit the post of his own goal in his attempt to play the ball back to Subhasish. The latter scrambled across his goal but the post came to Goa’s rescue.
Despite lady luck smiling on the Blasters, a piece of individual brilliance from Kervens Belfort resulted in Kerala scoring their winner in the 85th minute. The Haitian skipped past Keenan Almedia, cut onto his right foot and smashed home the winner from 25 yards, beating Subhasish Roy Choudhury on his near post in the process.
The goal from Kerala seemed to have drained the energy and spirit among the Gaurs. An emotionally, physically and mentally drained FC Goa succumbed to their second defeat at the Fatorda Stadium this season.