Needing to win to keep their hopes of making the semifinals alive, Chennaiyin FC were shocked at the very end as NorthEast United grabbed a late equaliser in the dying minutes of their Indian Super League (ISL) game at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai on Saturday evening.
Nigerian striker Dudu netted a hat-trick for the defending champions, who were pegged back each time they took the lead with Nicolas Velez replying with two goals of his own for NorthEast. Chennaiyin though led 3-2 with just over 10 minutes of regulation left. Shouvik Ghosh’s header however, in the 95th minute, saw the game finish 3-3 leaving Chennaiyin all but out of the race for the semis barring a miraculous sequence of results from all the other teams.
Chennaiyin head coach, Marco Materazzi, speaking after the game was lost for words when asked if he thought they'd score three goals and not win the game.
“No, I would have never thought that, but unfortunately this is football. I'm only sad for my players because they deserved to win today, they were fighting the whole time. NorthEast came for a draw”, said the Italian.
This wasn't the first time that Chennaiyin had let slip a lead late in the match, something that has afflicted them all season as Materazzi himself went on to point out.
“In Kolkata, we conceded a goal in the 84th-85th minute. Against Mumbai we conceded a goal in the 87th minute after they had shot only once on our goal. Pune, same thing, 84th minute we conceded a free-kick and today 95th minute.”
But Materazzi, whose side won the title last year, did say that overall he would gladly accept the results from this team.
“So if they had told me three years ago, come to India, you will make it to the playoffs in the first year, you will win the second year and you will get out like this in the third year, I would have signed anyway.”
“So I'm happy about today's performance, but unfortunately this is football and there's nothing you can do about it. We can just play as good as possible in the next game in Goa”, the World Cup winner summarized whose team play their last league match away at FC Goa on December 1st.
Club captain Bernard Mendy was left out of the starting eleven for this game, but came on as a sub in an attacking role up the pitch as his team went in search of the winner with the score tied at 2-2. And he did make an impact, providing the assist for Dudu’s and Chennaiyin’s third goal.
Materazzi revealed that the move was less tactical and more to do with an illness.
“Actually it's because he had fever yesterday. So he wasn't supposed to play and I want to thank him for being so professional and playing those 20-25 minutes really well”, Materazzi revealed.
Velez was impressive for The Highlanders, scoring a double and assisting the third, but he was also involved in a couple of clashes in the second half. First, he was seen putting his hand on Siam Hanghal’s throat after some verbal jostling and later he threw the football into Mehrajuddin Wadoo in an attempt to get him to take the throw-in quickly.
Materazzi was asked if it merited a card especially in the light of his own punishment earlier in the season which he still feels hard done by.
“I think for sure a yellow card, but it's not us who is choosing the referees. So after that both Velez and Wadoo were given a yellow card. It's not for me to judge, but if you choke somebody like that, the referees and AIFF and ISL should take appropriate measures. As I said, I've been banned for one game and that's not been fair to me. I cannot judge because it would be one-sided, but it was not fair to us.”
He was also critical of the referee for failing to control time wasting with NorthEast keeper Subrata Paul who took a long time to get things going at every goal kick, while suggesting he had an injury.
“In the ISL, there are actually three or four keepers who are clowns because if you are really stretched and have an injury, you can't play for 20-25 minutes more. So I think they were actually making fun of the referees, but it's not up to us to judge. And in football, you can have bad players, you can have bad coaches, but you can also have bad referees. But as I said, we cannot change this, it's done now”, Materazzi had to say.
Materazzi’s future with the club has been a topic of discussion as well with him and Antonio Habas, currently managing FC Pune City, being the only two head coaches who've been a part of all three seasons of the ISL. The 2006 World Cup winner though stated that the ball was in the club management's court.
“Well, I don't know because it's the club as well that needs to take the call, to evaluate me and examine me. So if they think that this year's performance is due also to my mistakes, I will step out. If they think the job I've done the whole season is good, we can talk about it. But anyway, I'd like to thank them for all they've done for me. I've received a lot and given a lot too”, concluded Chennaiyin’s head coach.