Marquee star Diego Forlan brought smiles to a packed Mumbai Football Arena stadium with a thunderous spot kick that proved to be the difference between the two sides as the hosts edged past NorthEast 1-0 here on Friday.Although Forlan had the first shot on the visitors’ goal, NorthEast – playing with a 4-1-4-1 formation – were the more aggressive of the two sides. They built up attacks in waves, with Ivory Coast midfielder Koffi Ndri proving to be a thorn in the flesh of home team’s defence.
In the 14th minute, Ndri’s left footed volley from the edge of the box had to be kept out of danger by a diving Mumbai custodian Roberto Volpato. The hosts got their first proper attempt on goal in the 20th minute via defender Aiborlang Khongjee, whose long ranger was parried away for a corner by former Mumbai goalkeeper Subrata Paul.
NorthEast dominated the game completely from thereon. First, Emiliano Alfaro was denied a shot on goal thanks to a superb tackle in the box by Sehnaj Singh and then Katsumi Yusa inexplicably shot over after being drafted into a one-on-one position with Volpato by Nico VelezVelez worked like a warhorse and fed Alfaro with a stinging pass in the 44th minute but the latter’s shot was deflected for a corner.
Mumbai coach Alexandre Guimaraes seemed to have given his boys a pep talk during the interval as the hosts came out all guns blazing after the lemon break.
They were helped by Reegan Singh’s clumsy tackle on Pronoy Halder in the penalty area, and Forlan was only too happy to convert the spot kick in the 55th minute. Paul had guessed the direction right but the Uruguayan’s power helped the ball rocket into the net after brushing the goalkeeper’s hand.Mumbai were then happy to defend their lead, which gave ample opportunities to the visitor’s attacking trio. However, the efforts of Alfaro, Katsumi and Velez were either handled with aplomb by Volpato or missed the target by inches.
Mumbai, who had finished 7th and 6th in 2014 and 2015, respectively, will be boosted by this win. What’s more, they don’t have to worry about crowd support either, as they have plenty of people to cheer in Andheri, unlike the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai.
Guimaraes said after the game: “What can I say about Forlan, two matches, one goal, one assist. What more can I ask for? We created less chances but defended like lions. Given the number of players that are missing, once they are back, we are going to get better. Two clean sheets in two games is mighty pleasing.”