Table-toppers FC Goa face fourth-placed Delhi Dynamos FC in the first leg of the first semifinal in New Delhi on Friday with both teams aiming to take an initiative in the two-legged contest.
The return leg is on December 15 in Fatorda, Goa. Defending champions Atletico de Kolkata and Chennaiyin FC will play in the first semifinal in Pune on December 12.
The match at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium will prove to be another cerebral battle between Brazilian coaches — Zico of Goa and Roberto Carlos of Dynamos.
Goa beat Dynamos in the two group stage matches and will certainly enjoy a bit of psychological edge ahead of the hosts.
But Dynamos will take heart from their consistent performances in the group matches this season under Carlos who has moulded the team into a disciplined outfit.
Dynamos have scored the least number of goals (18) among the four semi-finalists but Carlos’ has primarily built the team on tactical discipline and organisation.
They have conceded 20 goals in the group phase but worringly six in the last two matches.
Carlos will hope those were just aberrations as the former Real Madrid left-back has demanded a sound defensive organisation from his team and employed Norwegian great John Arne Riise at centre-back and Frenchman Florent Malouda at the heart of the midfield.
He has also laid emphasis on midfield positioning and aimed at dominating possession to launch accurate attacks.
Carlos said he respects his compatriot Zico but is primed at leading his team to the final.
“I always have respected Zico as a player, a manager and most of all as a person. He’s like a father to me but when it comes to the match we leave all the love behind and focus on our biggest goal. I am preparing my team and ensuring I have the boys mentally and physically focused for the games ahead,” he said on Wednesday.
Zico led Goa to the semifinals last year too. A virtuoso on the field in his playing days, his philosophy of offence-minded football has clearly rubbed off on his team.
They topped the goal scoring list in the group phase with 29 goals memorable among them being a 7-0 annihilation of Mumbai City FC to notch up ISL’s biggest win.
He has granted full attacking freedom to his frontmen Dudu, Thongkhosiem Haokip and Reinaldo. But their yearning for goals are not limited to their frontmen.
He has instilled a sense of self-belief in his players that has seen the likes of home-grown players Mandar Rao Dessai and Romeo Fernandes revel in their wide midfield roles.
The contrasting style of both teams will be truly tested in the semifinals with both coaches believing their philosophies will act as the catalyst in their march towards the summit clash o December 20.
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