With just one round of fixtures remaining – all 10 teams will play their final game between Thursday and Sunday – the Indian Super League table has thrown up one simple equation. On Sunday, three teams – Kerala Blasters, FC Goa, and Jamshedpur FC – were still in a battle to secure the final and fourth playoff spot. Bengaluru FC, Chennaiyin FC, and Pune City FC have already qualified.
The Blasters, though, had to pray for some results to go their way. Their fate was more or less in other hands. And their hopes ended on Wednesday with the game between FC Goa and two-time champs ATK. The Blasters needed ATK to win this one against all odds. But Goa has suddenly rediscovered the attacking form of late 2017 in the last week. They demolished ATK 5-1, and with that removed Kerala Blasters from contention. Mumbai City FC’s slim hopes ended too after they were destroyed by a resurgent Delhi Dynamos by the same scoreline. Even if the Blasters win their final game against leaders Bengaluru FC, finishing on 28 points won’t be enough. Because the final game for both Goa and Jamshedpur is a contest against one another.
That’s all it has come down to. For the final spot in the playoffs, Steve Coppell’s newcomers Jamshedpur will play Sergio Lobera’s Goa at the Tata Sports Complex on Sunday evening. The fates of both teams rest entirely on this final game.
WHAT GOA NEED TO DO
The Gaurs need one point or more from this game. They need a draw or a win. Knowing their all-out attitude, a draw is a rare result – which is why Lobera’s Spanish strikers will go for the win by a big margin. They know no other way. A draw will have them finish on 28 points in the fourth position. A win will mean that they could finish in the top 3 – subject to the results of the Chennaiyin game and the Pune City game. Either way, Goa’s destiny is their own.
WHAT JAMSHEDPUR NEED TO DO
Coppell’s side has impressed many with their narrow business-like wins this season. Jamshedpur needs a victory at home – nothing less – to progress into the playoffs. It is all or nothing. They will then finish in the fourth position, just ahead of FC Goa.
Goa have scored an astounding 9 goals in their two games since drawing against the Delhi Dynamos last Wednesday. First, they destroyed Pune City 4-0 and then ATK 5-1. Goa had a bleak 2018 till this last week – losing all their form and managing to win just two matches out of seven after entering the new year as a favorite to top the table. But they have picked up at the right time – salvaging a season that was threatening to spiral out of hand. Goa is the favorite on Sunday.
Jamshedpur, in contrast, had won 4 games in a row till they faced leaders Bengaluru and Chennaiyin in back-to-back weeks. They managed just 1 point from those two matches, while Goa managed 6 in their last 2. Both teams have had contrasting phases – but all of it leads to this crucial match in which winner takes all.
Goa is the most attacking and exciting team in this fourth edition of the ISL. They have scored 39 goals in 17 games – drawing just three and losing six games. 27 of their goals have come between their two strikers – Ferran Corominas and Manuel Lanzarote. Coro is the Golden Boot leader with a season-best 16 goals so far. Lanz, whose brace sunk ATK, is on third with 11 goals. Goa, in contrast, are also the weakest in defense out of the top 7 – nobody has conceded more than their 28 goals in 17 matches. Their goal difference of 11 is the second highest, after Bengaluru’s clinical 17.
There could not be a more poetic final match, given that Jamshedpur is the strongest defensive outfit in ISL-4. They have a record 7 clean sheets so far and have conceded only 15 goals. They are also the weakest on the offensive in the top 8. They have scored only 16 goals in 17 games, while a majority of their victories are 1-0 margins. Only ATK (15) and last-placed NorthEast United (12) have scored lesser.
FIRST LEG RESULT
Goa took on Jamshedpur in the second week of 2018 at home. This was to be a seminal match for both. Goa won 2-1 but went on a losing streak after this solitary win in January. They climbed into second place with the win but went down to sixth by the second week of February. Jamshedpur, in contrast, were spurred on by this narrow loss – they won five out of their next six games and roared into contention for the top 4, ahead of Goa right till last week. 2 points separate the two now.
Prediction: It is a good season for both the newcomers. But we expect a 2-0 victory in favor of Jamshedpur FC.
Sidenote: The bottom spot is up for grabs too. While Delhi Dynamos occupied the last position for the longest period, their recent form – they have been the best in the league in February – has propelled them into a respectful seventh position. They will finish in seventh, too. ATK has somehow suffered the biggest dip of the season – going from sixth to ninth this month after losing everything. Just three wins in 17 games means that they will face NorthEast United in their final game in a die-or-die game. NorthEast is last, just two points behind ATK right now. A win for Avram Grant’s team will see them finish ninth ahead of ATK. That could be a record – a defending champion finishing bottom of the table.