Delhi Dynamos eked out another victory with a one-goal margin as they beat high-flying FC Goa 1-0 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in the first leg semifinal of the Indian Super League.
If it was a typical win for Delhi, then it came via a typical goal from Robin Singh as he thumped in a header from skipper Anderson Cardoso’s cross in the 42nd minute.
What made the goal special was that Robin beat Brazil and Inter Milan legend Lucio in the air — timing his jump to perfection against a defender who hardly lets anything past him.
But Roberto Carlos’ side will have much to ponder about as well. Florent Malouda missed a sitter in the 73rd minute after excellent play from Gustavo dos Santos and Shylo ‘Mama’ Malsawmtluanga on the left channel. Mama received the ball from Dos Santos and cleverly beat his marker with an unexpected slipped pass to Malouda, who couldn’t score from point-blank range even on his stronger left foot.
Dos Santos tormented Goa’s defence all night, cutting in from the left flank time and again to link-up with the fleet-footed Adil Nabi. The West Bromwich loanee dragged an attempt wide on one such occasion and Mama’s attempt to curl it at the far post on another didn’t bode too well with Carlos on the touchline.
Dos Santos could have put the match to rest himself in the 83rd minute, when he slalomed past two defenders on the left wing this time, cut in and saw his shot tipped over brilliantly by Laxmikant Kattimani. Minutes later, substitute Richard Gadze had a chance to beat Kattimani, but his attempted toe-poke went wide. This time, rather than cursing, Carlos could only smile and shake his head in surprise at the profligacy of his attackers.
Goa were wasteful as well — but hardly had any chances compared to the home side. They did create the first of the game when Jofre Mateu’s whipped cross found CS Sabeeth two yards away from goal — and the Indian headed it over. Leo Moura, Goa’s most creative player of the campaign, committed a similar mistake when Rafael Luiz set him up with a low cross in the 85th minute.
Zico had left out Romeo Fernandes (came on as substitute), Mandar Dessai, Dudu Omagbemi and Thongkoisep Haokip out of the side — a possible indicator that he was saving his best attackers for the second leg. Delhi also left out Seminlen ‘Len’ Doungel, Souvik Chakrabarti and Richard Gadze (came on as substitute), but their side looked better on paper and deserved the win.
Their goal, which came after a string of passes, built patiently from the back, was a meticulous construction which was finished with aplomb — and came in stark contrast to their gung-ho approach in the second half when they tried to finish the game off.
That didn’t happen and Carlos, while satisfied that his side have won, knows that his team will have to display an equal amount of stubbornness at the back, verve in attack and passing discipline in midfield to make the final.
For Zico, he has to play his best XI in Goa. If it comes off, his decision to rest some stars will be seen as genius after 180 minutes of football. For now though, it’s advantage Delhi Dynamos.