A narrow 1-0 win was not enough for a desperate Mumbai City FC who were knocked out by FC Goa 5-2 on aggregate in the Hero Indian Super League semi-final at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, in Margao, on Tuesday.
Rafael Bastos scored the only goal of the match in the sixth minute but the visitors struggled to take advantage of their early lead and score more goals. A resolute Goa stood firm to ensure a place in the final and will battle Bengaluru FC for the coveted trophy at the Mumbai Football Arena on Sunday.
Mumbai got off to a promising start and took the lead in the sixth minute. Arnold Issoko intercepted a sloppy pass from Ahmed Jahouh and dribbled forward through the centre. Issoko picked out Bastos' run into the box from the left and the Brazilian slotted the ball past goalkeeper Naveen Kumar.
Goa soon took control of the game and passed the ball in and around the Mumbai box in search of an equaliser. The Islanders' defence, led by Lucian Goian, stood firm and closed down gaps.
Jahouh was pickpocketed again midway through the first half and Bastos sent Modou Sougou clear into the box. Naveen pulled off a good save and the rebound was cleared by a recovering Mourtada Fall.
A Paulo Machado strike from outside the box was deflected off target by Jahouh and a Bastos free-kick flew over the bar before the break as Mumbai piled the pressure on Goa and sought more goals. At the other end, a Jackichand Singh cross was headed wide by Hugo Boumous, leaving the Mumbai defenders on their toes.
Ferran Corominas, who had been silent in the first half, tried to influence the flow of the game after the break. The Spanish striker's shot from outside the box three minutes after the restart was saved by Amrinder Singh.
In the 56th minute, Jackichand's cross from the right was punched by Amrinder into the path of Corominas whose shot rattled the crossbar.
Mumbai looked to increase their lead as the second half progressed but struggled to create clear-cut chances against a stable Goa defence and an alert Naveen Kumar.
Machado split the defence with a through-ball into the box for Bastos in the 70th minute but a sliding challenge from Seriton Fernandes and a clearance by Naveen denied the visitors.
Sougou came agonisingly close to scoring a goal late in the game as the striker's effort missed the post by a whisker.
A curling Matias Mirabaje free-kick was kept out by Naveen but a miraculous comeback was already out of sight by then as Goa marched into the final.
Minerva Punjab claim they have pulled out of Super Cup along with 7 other I-League clubs
Minerva Punjab FC claimed they have pulled out of the upcoming Super Cup along with seven other I-League teams, citing unfair treatment to the clubs by the All India Football Federation.
The shocking development comes barely two days before the start of the Super Cup and could well throw the schedule into disarray.
Former champions Minerva Punjab finished 10th in the just-concluded 2018-19 season of the league.
"Minerva's withdrawal is in unison with the united withdrawal of all I-league clubs (barring Shillong Lajong, Churchill Brothers, Real Kashmir, and Indian Arrows) from the Super cup due to reasons mentioned in identical letters sent by all clubs to All India Football Federation (AIFF) general secretary, Kushal Das today," Minerva Punjab said in a statement.
Mohun Bagan secretary Srinjoy Bose was not forthcoming when PTI contacted him but dropped a broad hint at withdrawal from the tournament when he said, "We all are united in this fight, this much I can say, rest you will see tomorrow."
The Super Cup is scheduled to be held in Bhubaneswar, with the Qualifiers starting from March 15. The final is slated for April 13.
Minerva Punjab pointed out that the I-League clubs are being neglected in all aspects by the country's football federation.
Eight I-League clubs had written a letter to the AIFF in February this year regarding multiple concerns such as the future of the league but they claimed they were "yet to hear back" from the federation.
The former champions also highlighted how the AIFF has "not provided any financial assistance to the participating teams" despite having a title sponsor for the event. With no AFC competitions also on offer, the club felt the competition lacked any incentive for the teams.
The Super Cup is a knockout tournament hosted by the AIFF where I-League teams lock horns against the Indian Super League teams. It is India's main club knockout tournament and Minerva was scheduled to play the qualifying round against FC Pune City on the March 15.
The club said it will "now wait for a response from the AIFF" before making the next move.
Minerva Punjab FC finished 10th in the I-League standings with 17 points from 19 games though they are scheduled to play a rematch against third-placed Real Kashmir, the date of which is yet to be finalised, after refusing to travel to Srinagar for not getting security assurances in writing in the wake of the Pulwama terror attack.
AIFF orders inquiry after match commissioner cast doubts on Chennai vs Minerva game
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) launched an inquiry into the final-day I-League championship decider between Chennai City and Minerva, swinging into action after an expression of suspicion by the match commissioner.
Leaders Chennai City's shocking loss to Churchill Brothers had handed East Bengal a shot at the title going into their last round matches. On the final day of the 2018-19 league, a draw or a defeat for the Chennai City against Minerva Punjab and a victory for East Bengal would have crowned the Kolkata heavyweights champions.
While East Bengal did manage to win, Minerva Punjab lost 3-1 after taking the lead, immediately prompting the red & gold outfit's skipper Lalrindika Ralte to question the Minerva Punjab's decision to substitute their foreign recruits at what was a crucial juncture of the game.
"The AIFF is looking into the matter and the federation's integrity officer has already got down to work. Though, in the match commissioner's report to the federation, nothing suspicious was mentioned," an AIFF official told PTI on conditions of anonymity.
However, in another note, match commissioner Balasubramanaiam raised doubts about the game being "not played in true spirit".
"After thorough discussion and observation, self and RA appointed for the above subjected game in our opinion like to bring to your kind notice that the penultimate match played between CCFC and MPFC in Coimbatore on 9.3.2019 was not played in true spirit," the match commissioner mentioned in his note which is in possession of PTI.
He added, "Incidents evidently provide us proof at 56 minute the player taking the penalty, J No 19 (Pedro Manzi) of CCFC had shown him with his gesture, which side he is going to kick. The goal keeper dived the other way. J No 17 (Roland Bilala) of MPFC was being substituted at 53 min at that time the team was leading by a goal scored by him at 3 minute and it surprised the player himself since he was displaying good attacking football."
"Jersey No 10 (Juan Quero) of MPFC was substituted at 76 minute on which he was also annoyed and shown annoyance when he came to his technical area, since he was displaying good attacking game. Sh Ranjit Bajaj, Team Manager throughout the game was very quite which is very opposite to his nature throughout the Championship."
Minerva Punjab owner Ranjit Bajaj though rubbished the claims, saying they played the game in the right spirit and with an intention to win.