FC Goa came back from a two goal deficit to claim a dramatic 3-2 victory against Delhi Dynamos and as a result, became the top side after the group phase in what was effectively a precursor to an Indian Super League (ISL) semi-final match-up between the two sides in New Delhi on Sunday.
Strikers Reinaldo Greene and Adil Nabi handed Dynamos a 2-0 advantage at the break. But midfielder Romeo Fernandes, who was introduced in place of defender Debabrato Roy on 56 minutes, scored in the 68th and 69th to bring his team level. Spanish midfielder Jofre Mateu sensationally scored the winner in the 90th to propel his team to the top of the standings.
Goa finished the league stage of the tournament with 25 points from 14 matches, two more than second-placed Atletico de Kolkata and three more than Chennaiyin FC and Dynamos. Chennaiyin became third due to a superior goal difference than Dynamos.
The two teams had already qualified to the play-offs and the standings ensured whoever wins, the match clinches the top spot with the vanquished side finishing fourth.
Goa will take on Dynamos in the first semi-finals while Atletico will face Chennaiyin in the second last four contest.
With no apparent incentive in sight, both teams displayed little intensity or purpose during the initial stages.
Brazilian Reinaldo’s free header in the 18th minute that went straight to goalkeeper Elinton Andrade was the only worthwhile attempt at goal for both sides.
Slowly action warmed up with Dynamos getting into the act near the half hour mark. Frenchman Florent Malouda nicely set up Vinicius de Souza with a diagonal ball but he muffled his attempt after advancing dangerously into the box.
No sooner had blown that opportunity that they went ahead. Dutch midfielder Greene rose highest in the 31st minute to nod in a dangerous Malouda free-kick.
The goal brought some enthusiasm within their ranks and inspirited Dynamos to push for their second goal.
It came nine minutes later when English striker Nabi utilised Ghanaian forward Richard Gadze’s through ball to net an opportunistic goal.
Two quick goals though didn’t knock the stuffing out of Goa. They went forward and should have reduced the margin just at the stroke of half-time hadn’t Reinaldo missed another straight forward header -- this time from inside six yards.
The action after the break lacked flow but that didn’t stop both teams from getting sighters at goal with Dynamos’ experienced Norwegian John Arne Riise using his wisdom to effect a goal-line clearance.
It turned out to be a warning for Dynamos as the nippy Romeo then struck twice within a minute, first with a left-footed shot from the edge of the box and then a regulation tap in, to strike a hammer blow to Dynamos.
Dynamos’ four-man defence, led by Riise, has been tight throughout the eight-team tournament but just couldn’t react to the shock of overthrowing the advantage.
Jofre completed Dynamos’ disbelief towards the fag end by opportunistically sneaking in the winner.
While Goa coach Zico will be glad after finishing on top, his only worry will be the unavailability of marquee man Lucio in the first leg of the semi-finals after the 2002 World Cup winner with Brazil picked up his fourth yellow card on Sunday.
Dynamos coach Roberto Carlos will also have his fair share of worries after shipping in six goals in the final two group phase matches.