CHENNAI: The slump, it seems, is over. Defending Indian Super League champions shook off the lethargy that had enveloped them in the first two games of the season, and produced an effective display to see off FC Goa 2-0, at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here on Thursday.
The game was decided in the first-half when Zico’s decision to start with a lightweight midfield resulted in two Chennaiyin goals, before the half-hour mark. By the time the game moved onto the second half, it was just a matter of avoiding a meltdown for Materazzi and his men. The excellence of Brazilian midfielder Rafael Augusto and the relative stability of the Chennaiyin defence saw to that.
Materazzi had said in his pre-match press-conference that he would dump the entire eleven that played Delhi Dynamos, and he did come close to doing that. Out went goalkeeper Duwayne Kerr, Nallappan Mohanraj, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Dudu Omagbeni and Bernard Mendy. Of the replacements, it was the 18-year-old Jerry Lalrinzuala’s inclusion that caught the eye, with the left-back putting in a solid shift.
The early few minutes were the best Goa had, with much of the initial action concentrated in the Chennaiyin half. But that bubble burst soon enough with the first Chennaiyin goal in the 15th minute.The goal was conjured from nothing by Augusto. After moving out of midfield with the ball, he fooled the Goa defence with a clever dummy and slipped the ball through for the advancing Hans Mulder. Augusto may have been looking for the one-two, advancing past Mulder after the pass, but the Dutchman, spotting the narrowest of paths to goal, opted to take the shot. Laxmikant Kattimani’s despairing dive was not enough to stop the ball from rustling the bottom right corner of the net.
Goa looked deflated after that first goal, but any punch they may have packed disappeared after a second tragicomically went in, four minutes from the half-hour-mark. Baljit Sahni, out wide, knocked the ball to captain-for-the-night Mehrajuddin Wadoo on the edge of the box. Wadoo attempted to cross to Davide Succi at the far post but Rafael Dumas had other ideas. The Brazilian defender got his head to ball, but only succeeded in drilling it into the ground, with the bounce taking it past his own goalkeeper.
Just after the goal, Chennaiyin had a major worry when Augusto went down, after a clash of legs with Fulganco Cardozo. But much to their relief, the Brazilian was up in no time. Goa’s muted attacks in the first half were a vindication of Materazzi’s decision to replace fan-favourite Bernard Mendy with the more mobile Eli Sabia. The Brazilian, unlike Mendy, is a natural centre-back and snuffed out Reinaldo, Rafael Coelho and Jofre Mateu.
But it was in midfield that Goa were hopelessly outmatched. A central midfield pairing of Sanjay Balmuchu and Sahil Tavor never stood a chance against Augusto and Manuele Blasi. Zico attempted to rectify this at the start of the second half, sacrificing Lucio for Richarlyson Felisbino, with Balmuchu dropping back. Further artillery was thrown on, near the hour mark, in the form of Julio Cesar, who replaced the ineffective Jofre. But neither substitutions inspired the sort of revival that Zico was hoping for.