FC Goa went into the first leg of their semi-final clash in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) against Atletico de Kolkata on the back of a 1-1 draw, just four days earlier against the same opposition. Zico rested enough of his players in that league match, knowing they had already qualified for the knockout stagebut more importantly, called back World Cup winner Robert Pires for that clash.
Pires,who sat out for a number of games before the final league tie, was substituted in the 70th minute but earned enough match-time to test his feet. Unfortunately, he was dropped for the first leg of the semi-finals.In his absence, Andre Santos stepped up remarkably, scoring and assisting freely. Given that Goa need to score to get through, expect both players to start which will give Goa the best chance of making it to the inaugural final of the ISL.
Pires has turned out for Goa eight times, having scored a solitary goal but playing a good distributor of the ball in his deep-lying role.At 41 years, Pires clearly won’t be making those darting runs down the left wing to either unleash a shot or create a chance, something he was famous for at Arsenal. “I think it’s mixed. Sometimes, you have to wait back in defence and sometimes, you have good counter attacks. We try to develop football and we have good players. To me, I think the most important thing is the mix that we have,” Pires said.
Despitehaving taken the bold step of dropping his marquee signing,under Zico, Goa has seen a remarkable upheaval in fortunes. Zico had come under scrutiny by many for his decisions, but the Brazilian knows his team best. “I have been saying sincethe beginning – we have 27 good players, not just 11,” he said.
Pires is equally confident of the journey completed by Goa and is looking forward to the last leg of the ISL journey. “We started our journey with difficulties, the road has been long and tough, but here we are now in the semi-finals, and we are happy about it and confident to put up a good show. But we are not overconfident. We know it will be a very different and difficult, and we are prepared for it,”he said.
Pires also tried to play down the significance of a revenge mission between the two hotbeds of Indian football since their last match, “I don’t like the word ‘revenge’. Whatever happened in the last match is a matter of the past. For our team, the focus is to reach the final in Mumbai.”