Like Rehenesh TP debuted in the Indian Super League (ISL) today, this post marks the debut of ISL Blog. However, I’d like to avoid the fate of the Northeast United’s Goalkeeper as he was the one who started the goal proceedings in a negative way.
I could’ve probably chosen a more entertaining game to begin ISL Blog but at the same time, I could’ve chosen something much worse. I will settle for this one.
Impressive But a Slightly Dirty Beginning from Northeast United
The game began tentatively with the first major incident being the battering of Robert Pires at the hands of Isaac Chansa. Chansa did make up for going after my favourite player in the league by showing some real verve and drive for the rest of the game and eliminating the hooligan from his game. The first good incident was the drive from Capdevila under the wall which almost went in due to a deflection. Seda, Goa’s goalkeeper, played well throughout the night and kept Northeast United’s multiple attacks at bay.
The game was dominated by Koke from beginning till he was substituted. While people may have expected Pires’s pedigree they saw the calm panache of Koke. Somehow, he always had enough space and time to gather the ball, look up, and slide in a sumptuous pass.
That was the crux of the game from the Home team. Northeast would press hard and high, get the ball, hand it to Koke, and watch him slide balls left, right and centre to willing runners from the middle and the flank. This strategy, eventually, lead to FC Goa being pushed back into their own half and hoping for counters, especially since Pires’s age and rustiness meant that he couldn’t dominate the game. I have to say, I liked Northeast United’s game.
The First Goal against the Run of Play
As is the case with such strategies, Northeast received a lot of offsides against them. Some of the credit must go to Goa’s defence for this and particularly Gregory who made many key interceptions and kept a tight control over the whole defensive line. Gregory would make an even more key contribution at 17 minutes when Goa took the lead against the run of play.
It was a scrappy goal. Chansa, in his early quest to scalp Pires, put in a dirty challenge and was yellow carded. Pires was constantly being double teamed and fouled by Northeast United.
I understand the need for laying down the gauntlet to a silky stylish player but forced physicality is not something that I believe Indian football should be straddled with. We, anyways, lack the required technique and quality needed to excel on the world football stage. If the referees start letting tough fouls go by then we’ll end up becoming Neanderthals on the pitch. No one wants to play like Stoke’s ogres do they?
The punishment was fair on Chansa and the insult to injury even more so. Santos, the perennial flab master and whipping boy of fans, took the free kick. It was a simple enough affair but Rehenesh decided to make a hash of it or should it be Renehash? He fumbled the simple catch and the ball fell to Ranti Martins, who flicked it towards the goal on the fall. The ball hit the post and rolled across the mouth of the goal. Robin came in and tried to clear the ball which promptly hit Rehenesh’s head while he was flailing on the floor and went to Gregory. Gregory side footed the ball in from a yard out. Yes, it was not a beautiful goal. More importantly, it was against the run of play. Rehenesh would spend the rest of the game being uncertain whether he should come for a ball or let his defenders handle it.
Northeast’s Reaction to Going Behind
Northeast, after the goal, got even more aggressive with their pressing, running, and hounding. The temperature kept on going up inside the stadium till it exploded with the equaliser at about 36 minutes. The equaliser was controversial though, seriously controversial.
The referee for the night, one known as D Gantar, has probably never made a bigger blunder in his life. He gave a penalty to Northeast that should never have stood. Even R Herbert, Northeast’s manager looked slightly surprised and bemused. The call was so poor that the referee should go home take the Ice Bucket Water Challenge just so he could feel clean again.
The ball was bouncing around and looped up into the air. Robin jumps from the outside of the box into the air and so does Debarata. The two collide and, for some reason, the grey matter inside Ganter’s head turns into slush and he decides to go for fame. Penalty given. At least, he had the sense to not send the player off.
Koke stepped up and calmly equalised with his second goal of the tournament for Northeast United. He coolly sent the keeper to his left and slotted nonchalantly towards his right. No fuss, no huff, bread buttered, breakfast had. Home fans, promptly set off some rockets – its Diwali after all. Northeast continued to dominate the rest of the half. Such was their domination that they had 59% possession.
The home fans deserve appreciation and some criticism. I liked the way they cheered their team but I don’t like the fact that they chose to boo the other team’s substitutions. I’ve not heard of categorically booing the opponent’s substitutions, even though I know specifically hated players get the special treatment. Not good sportsmanship at all.
The One Way Second Half
The second half was starker than the first half. Northeast took control of the game firmly and pushed and pushed to get multiple chances. Goa retreated into their half, presented two banks of defenders, but still gave away a number of good chances. Northeast, led by Koke’s creativity and Capdevila good defending, got many through balls in to runners on flanks but the final ball was always less than perfect. Capdevila would win it and lay it off to a teammate who would promptly pick out Koke. Koke would then proceed to dish out pass after wonderful pass.
The finishing was poor though and Seda in good form. He singlehandedly kept Goa in the game and came up with a number of good saves. Pires and Santos, both spent forces, were taken off by Zico later. Isn’t it typical of Zico to setup his team defensively? At least that’s how I remember that man’s managerial stints. He was surprisingly defensive for a Brazilian.
The Final Stretch
Edgar Marcelino came on for Pires and he does deserve a mention because he almost took the game by the scruff of its neck a few times. He ran with the ball and put in some good passes before he was too shut down by the Northeast United midfield. Chansa also made a difference with his engine, once he put a lid on trying to physically intimidate every opponent. After he stopped giving away fouls, he actually became the archetypical Box to Box midfielder.
About the 80 minute mark, everyone got tired with the heavy ISL schedule taking a toll. Some more substitutions were made and both teams seemed to accept that one point will be good enough but the fatigue at the end of the game was palpable.
Certain rules also had a role to play in creating that fatigue for both teams. For instance, in an ISL match, both teams must have at least five domestic i.e. Indian players on the pitch. The rule, while good for the development of Indian football, does mean tied hands for managers. Isn’t that a nugget you can throw in your friend’s face the next time he shows off his football knowledge to you in the middle of a match? I’ll try to give you one fact like this with every post on this blog.
All in all, the match turned out to be far better than what I expected (I’m used to watching the European – Spain and England – standards of football). Some expectations were met. I thought the foreign names would dominate the game and they did. Only time will tell whether some fairy dust (experience) from those legends will brush off onto Indian players’ shoulders. I did see Pires and Capdevila trying to be generals on the pitch while Koke had a calmness to him that helped his team. Here’s to hoping the Indian players will show some flare and technique in the future matches. Cheers!