Chennaiyin FC set up a Saturday evening date with Bengaluru FC as the last teams standing in Indian Super League 2017/18. On Tuesday night in Chennai, they clinically dismantled FC Goa 3-0 to win the double-legged semi-finals 4-1 on aggregate.
Jeje Lalpekhlua ended a six-game drought — the longest in his professional career —- with a 26th minute goal and contributed to another three minutes later which had local player Dhanpal Ganesh, whose poster at the stadium was as big as this city uses for matinee idols, heading home.
By then, the only people at the Nehru stadium here who didn’t think Chennaiyin FC would be travelling to the final were from Goa. The flashlights on mobile phones had been lit and every move the blue shirts made had the place breaking into loud cheers.
Lalpekhlua then sealed the deal with a 90th minute goal. Soon after, the crowd was chanting ‘Thank you, Bachchan’ as AB Junior, who had read out the team list earlier in the evening,bowed in gratitude.
FC Goa started in fifth gear; the attacks breaking on Chennaiyin FC with the relentlessness of waves on a beach. By the 16th minute, FC Goa had forced five corner-kicks. They were weaving a tapestry of passes and Mandar Rao Desai’s shot in the 17th minute had caught Chennaiyin FC goalie Karanjit Singh out of position. But in the way skipper Henrique Sereno and right-back Inigo Calderon took up positions to protect the goal showed why FC Goa, for all their attacking verve and possession, could never really find a route to goal.
But if everyone in the home team’s back four played with the kind of assuredness that made the 19,013-strong crowd confident that Chennaiyin FC could batten the hatches and keep it that way till the Gaurs go home, FC Goa showed why they leaked 28 goals — the maximum among semi-finalists — in the league phase.
For the first 16 minutes, Chennaiyin FC had hardly known what it felt like having a football to play with. But in the next 16, they had sealed the game.
Lalpekhlua had missed a free header in the 21st minute and that was the match’s best chance despite traffic going entirely the other way. With Gregory Nelson being their attacking heartbeat, Chennaiyin FC targeted the right side of FC Goa’s defence and it cracked when an Alves’ ball found Lalpekhlua unmarked. Even during a dry run, he doesn’t miss them from this close.
From looking unsure, Lalpekhlua was then a man transformed. He held on to the ball to win a free-kick and this time, Nelson floated his delivery deep for Ganesh to flick home.
Yes, FC Goa still had the odd move going but for the most part, the deadly duo of Lanzarote and top-scorer Ferran Corominas were kept quiet. Like they were in three of the four games between the teams this term.
After the break, FC Goa pushed higher up the park but not only did Chennaiyin FC shut them out, Lalpekhlua again hit on the break making the most of Mohammed Ali’s heavy touch.