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Both FC Goa and Chennaiyin FC will look for redemption when they square-off in the Hero Super Cup 2019 final at the Kalinga Stadium here on Saturday.
Goa had to endure the heartbreak of losing out on the Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2018-19 title on the last day of the campaign, going down to Bengaluru FC courtesy an extra time goal. Winning the Hero Super Cup will help Sergio Lobera's side soften the blow and claim silverware for the first time in the club's history.
For Chennaiyin, the ISL 2017-18 champions, the 2018-19 campaign turned out to be a disastrous one. John Gregory's men saw their title defence fall face-first as they ended the season at the bottom of the table. Winning the knockout tournament will be a big opportunity for Chennaiyin to give the disappointed fans something to cheer about after what has been a nightmarish season.
The two teams have plenty of history between them, most notably, facing off in the ISL 2015 final - a dramatic and feisty match which Chennaiyin eventually won 3-2 courtesy two very late goals.
Goa, the ISL 2018-19 finalists, have been in fine form in the Super Cup putting in some stunning performances, which saw them score 10 goals in three matches. Despite having to face I-League 2018-19 champions Chennai City FC in the semi-final without the likes of Edu Bedia, who was suspended for the tie, the Gaurs faced little trouble dispatching of a strong Chennai City side which, throughout the season, established itself as arguably the most exciting team in the country.
With Edu back for the final, Goa will be even stronger heading into the decider on Saturday. The Goa outfit has been in fine form offensively, with the likes of Ferran Corominas, Brandon Fernandes and Bedia all amongst the goals.
However, Goa would do well not to rest on their laurels from the previous results against Chennaiyin. Despite struggling terribly during the campaign, Gregory's side has looked like a side transformed post the ISL.
Chennaiyin have been unbeaten in their last six fixtures in the AFC Cup and Super Cup, conceding just one goal in the process. The Chennaiyin defence, marshalled by Mailson Alves and Eli Sabia, has been rock solid of late and the return of Dhanpal Ganesh in midfield has only helped.
Ganesh, who missed the entire ISL season with an injury, is possibly one of the best holding midfielders in India and was integral to Chennaiyin's ISL triumph in the 2017-18 season. The 27-year-old is still finding his feet after a lengthy layoff, but his physicality and tenacity in midfield has given Chennaiyin the spark they lacked so dearly during the ISL.
Besides providing ample cover for the backline, Ganesh's reassuring presence allows Chennaiyin's more creative midfielders - Raphael Augusto and Anirudh Thapa - to play with more freedom on the opposition half. Thapa, in particular, has benefitted immensely from it and has established himself as the team's talisman.
The youngster's technical abilities have shone through in the last few matches and the 21-year-old has been central to everything good Chennaiyin have managed going forward.