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Panaji, March 9, 2020
Chennaiyin and ATK will be gunning for their third title in the Hero Indian Super League and nobody will grudge them their place in Sunday’s final in Goa.
Job completed in the two-legged playoffs, by hook or by crook, both sides remained resolute when the tide seemed to be against them in the reverse leg. If Chennaiyin found themselves down 0-2 inside the first 20 minutes against Goa, ATK suffered an early reverse at home against defending champions Bengaluru. Still, they managed to turn the tables in their favour for a deserving place in the final.
In the first semi-final, Chennaiyin and Goa served up a goal-fest that produced 11 goals, with the former champions emerging triumphant 6-5 on aggregate. In fact, it is comfortably the highest-scoring play-off tie in the six-year history of ISL, and probably the most thrilling one as well.
It seemed the tie was well and truly finished when Chennaiyin pummelled FC Goa 4-1 at home in the first leg. However, Goa mounted a brilliant fight back at home and came within a goal of overturning the result when they were 2-0 up in the first half. But Owen Coyle’s men managed to score two away goals to almost secure the tie. Clifford Miranda’s men scored two late goals to ensure a nervous finish to the tie, with Chennaiyin emerging victorious.
"I thought we were in the game even when it was 4-2. We created a lot of chances and missed many. We were almost there. It’s a part of football that when you go for the third goal, something can happen and it happened. We were very close to winning the game, especially in the first half," FC Goa interim coach Clifford Miranda said after being ousted by Chennaiyin.
ATK, on the other hand, had to launch a terrific fightback to reach their third ISL final. They had been blunted in the first leg in Bengaluru with the defending champions winning 1-0. ATK found themselves on the back foot early in the second leg in Kolkata when Ashique Kuruniyan scored an away goal to double Bengaluru’s advantage.
ATK had to score three times or wave their chances of reaching the final good-bye. Inspired by the likes of Prabir Das, David Williams, Roy Krishna and goalkeeper Arindam Bhattacharja, Antonio Habas’ men completed the turnaround to dump Bengaluru FC out.
"We tried our best. It was a game of little margins. Now we are out because of one goal. They made a great effort. They have worked a lot throughout the season," Bengaluru FC manager Carles Cuadrat reflected after 180 minutes of gritty football.
No doubt, the finalists survived what have been two of the most engaging play-off ties, in the history of ISL to reach the final. To add more prestige to the final, both teams are looking to become the first club to win the ISL three times in six years.
With the added advantage of an AFC Cup spot on offer for the winners of the summit clash, expect Chennaiyin and ATK to serve up another classic as they face off in the final for the first time.