Goa, February, 2020: “If anyone asks, tell them this is FC Goa. This is what we are all about. We are not giving up. No chance.” The full-time whistle against Mumbai City FC brought up yet another bevvy of words. It was Carlos Peña this time.
On nights when FC Goa plays at Fatorda, those moments are rare when the entire Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium is hushed into a moment where everyone is primed and a certain quietness descends.
That, though, came about when Goan boy Rowlin Borges gave Mumbai the lead early on in the game.
“It’s hard to choose between wins, but this one was special. At the end of the last game, I remember how Hugo bellowed those words of inspiration and how we all quietly vowed to give our all for the rest of the games,” recalled Lenny Rodrigues after Wednesday night’s win over Mumbai City FC.
“It just wasn’t clicking right from the go and then to concede that goal was tough. But we didn’t let our heads go down. We believe in ourselves. There is no other we could have done that.
“It’s been like playing one final after the other. It’s relentless, it’s exhilarating, it’s been fun.”
Simple and devastating
The simple, artful and yet the devastatingly dangerous FC Goa attack that has a penchant for moving through the opposition defences like a knife through butter was not really moving through the gears.
With a playoff spot up for grabs, the visitors looked motivated and vibrant. And much like the start of the first leg of last season’s semi-final took the lead.
“Sometimes in these kinds of games, you need that extra motivation. It was a blow, but looking back at that moment, I guess that is what our boys really needed,” says Clifford Miranda.
Comebacks have been a kind of a theme for FC Goa this season. Scorers of the most goals in the dying minutes of games, the Gaurs have been the embodiment of the ‘never say die’ attitude. Three draws courtesy of three strikes beyond the 90 minutes has been a testament to the fact.
This time, it was Mumbai City FC at the blunt end of it all. And this time it was for all three points.
The comeback this time was not allowed to be left too late into the game. Within a couple of minutes of falling behind, the Gaurs struck back through Coro and within the next 15 odd minutes went on to put the game beyond the visitors.
You wouldn’t have batted a lid if by the end of the first half they had secured themselves 5 goals. Ushered by the need to get back to the top of the table, the fire in their bellies had set alight the pitch in Fatorda.
There was rhythm, there was desire and three goals to end the first forty-five.
A ruthless streak that on their day can put anyone to the sword. For FC Goa those days have come often and at home, they have seemingly forgotten to do anything but win.
This was their sixth consecutive win on the trot at home – another ISL record.
“We go into every game on the front foot and believe we are going to come out on top every time we take the field,” says Mohammad Nawaz. “And at home, that feeling is even stronger. It feels like we are not only doing it for ourselves, but also the people here in Goa.”
In addition to winning six on the trot at home, they have won 4 in a row. The defeat against ATK seems to have lit a fire.
A consistent line-up has been part of the story, but what has been of note is how everyone has come together to help get the team’s ‘mojo’ back. 16 goals scored in the last 4 games are reasons for celebrations for sure. But what has endeared them to the fans is their attitude to work their butts off for one another.
“It’s this group. They are really amazing,” says Derrick Pereira. “Teams have come against us playing different tactics. Some opt to man mark and press, some like to offer a zone and we have been able to circumnavigate everything.”
This season or the next, the run of wins will end, but what they are doing with the pressure firmly on their shoulders is something to admire. As the race for the AFC Champions League comes down to the last games, they epitomise ‘cool’ in the millennial language.
And no, it’s not winning-a-championship cool — flags fly forever and all of that. But even as the years wear off, these are the kind of runs people remember – talk about at the pub.
The ‘cool’ thing about it is that the players have nothing on their mind about the streak. The circumstances perhaps demand that. A win is a great thing but it’s only the next game that becomes ever more important after the blow of the final whistle.
With FC Goa and ATK, it’s like two boxers punching one blow after the other – completely unconscious of anything else around them – focussed in every manner with a view to improve in every minute way possible.
There are, of course, those nagging questions. “Can the Gaurs seal the first position on the table? Will there be an ISL trophy at the end of it all?”
A championship at the end of the day makes everything else look trivial in comparison – like how FC Goa looks at every goalscoring record whenever they take to the pitch.
You certainly do not luck yourself into winning six in a row at home – not in the fashion FC Goa have been winning anyway. The Gaurs are concocting a storm every time they take to the field, that itself is a thing of beauty.