January 2018
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ISL: FC Pune City ground high-flying FC Goa
(Margao, Dec 23, 2017):Suddenly, FC Goa don’t seem safe even at its fortress, the Nehru Stadium in Fatorda. The Goan franchise has been one of the most potent sides in the Indian Super League, registering a record 18 goals in five matches. But up against the might of FC Pune City, familiar weaknesses showed up as the visitors notched a comfortable 2-0 victory on Saturday.

Emiliano Alfaro (71st minute) and Jonathan Lucca (84th minute) pierced a dagger through Goa’s heart, handing the hosts their first defeat at home. The victory takes Pune to 12 points from seven matches and a fourth place on the table. If it’s any consolation, Goa still have a match in hand and will return to the top of the table if they can put it across ATK in the rescheduled clash on January 3.

Nobody saw this coming, though. Goa were riding high after a hat-trick of victories, scoring an astonishing 14 goals in just three games. The weakness in defence was always going to stick out like a sore thumb but you could trust the strikeforce. Fans sang, “Corominas, sha la la la la; he scores whenever he wants,” in tribute of the leading goal-getter, but it’s unfair to expect a hat-trick in every second match. Not that he didn’t have a chance, but the goalpost stood in between and goalkeeper Vishal Kaith eventually proved a hard nut to crack.

Pune were always going to be dangerous customers. With Marcelinho, last year’s Golden Boot winner, and Emiliano Alfaro, they have a strikeforce which is as good as anyone else and proved that in good measure as the two combined to leave Goa’s defence in shambles.

For the opening goal, Marcelinho picked Alfaro with a delightful through ball which neither Goa defender Mohammad Ali nor goalkeeper Laxmikant Kattimani could check. For the second, five players crowded the box and defender Seriton Fernandes could simply watch from behind as Lucca turned the ball home from handshaking distance.

Lucca, a former FC Goa player, didn’t celebrate his strike but the travelling fans, Orange Army, couldn’t hide their joy. Neither could coach Ranko Popovic, who was animated on the touchline throughout the match, largely agitated at the officiating.

Referee Rowan Arumughan had a tough time on the field. Both teams made it difficult for him and both had reasons to complain after being denied what seemed like legitimate penalty calls.

To be fair, nobody could grudge Pune three points. They knew what they were doing; packing the defence, throttling play in midfield and making life miserable for Goa on the counter. Adil Khan was impressive, and so was Ashique Kuruniyyan, besides of course, Vishal.

For Goa, this will be an important lesson. They lost at home for the first time this season, also failed to score for the first time. But these are still early days in the league, even if, for some, the loss would leave a bitter taste in this mouth this Christmas.

No wonder, everyone is looking forward to the new year.

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