By Nandakumar Marar
MUMBAI: Amrinder Singh, 27, is expected to bear the weight of Mumbai City FC expectations as the first-choice goalkeeper in ISL Season 7 final against ATK Mohun Bagan at Margao’s Jawaharlal Nehru stadium. He is a standout performer for MCFC right through the league, as seen from a minimum of six reflex saves in the semi-final second leg regulation time against the same opponent. ATKMB’s feared strike-force of Roy Krishna, David Williams, Manvir Singh could have clinched the tie, but for the India number two custodian’s anticipation and blocks under the bar.
Mumbai City FC coach, Sergio Lobera, pulled off a surprise switch of goalkeepers for the tie-breaker, brining in young Phurba Lachenpa in place of the experienced custodian-captain after the extra-time was over and score locked 0-0. The move took everyone by surprise including Amrinder seen hurling his gloves down near the bench in disgust. He recovered his poise soon to give critical advice to the 23-year-old. The goalkeeper switch turned into a masterstroke after MCFC won 6-5 in the sudden-death for a first-time final appearance.
Amrinder is in the right place at the right time to convert the title dream into a reality. He is experienced enough to overcome the disappointment of Lobera’s decision to choose Phurba for the most crucial phase of Mumbai City’s progress in the league. The final match can be decided on penalty kicks, in full-time, extra-time or in the tie-breaker when the person under the bar will be called upon to deliver. The former lifted the League Winner Shield earlier after guiding his team to the league’s top spot and now the chance to lift the trophy is within grasp.
Lobera credited the MCGC goalkeeping coach for the tactical move against ATKMB and a switch of personnel under the bar in the final cannot be ruled out. Talking about the semifinal substitution of Amrinder with Phurba, Brahmanand S (ex-India goalkeeping ace and captain) hinted at the mind games angle. “Looking at the decision from the psychological viewpoint, rival players will not try the easy way (of converting penalty kicks) against a good goalkeeper standing under the bar, they will blast the ball in.”
The former India goalkeeping coach added: “When a new goalkeeper is facing them, experienced kickers may be tempted to be clever, feeling that their task is now on the easier side. Sometimes, the easier thing gives you a setback, I feel this is the factor at the back of Mumbai City coach’s mind. He may also have seen Phurba in training sessions and felt that the youngster had nothing to do except establish his name in penalty kicks.”
FC Goa’s experienced Edu Bedia’s attempted placement was saved by Phurba, who saw James Donachie blast his penalty kick over the bar. Glen Martins’ miss in the sudden death sealed FC Goa’s exit.
Aminder, watching the action from the bench, returned to celebrate with his young teammate. Commenting about the MCFC’s captain open display of frustration at being replaced, Brahmanand pointed out: “We did not see on television if he was spoken to by anyone. Otherwise, it is tough for a proven senior player to keep his disappointment aside so quickly. Full credit to Amrinder if the change of mind came on his own.” The custodian-captain is second place in the race for the ISL Golden Glove award, behind ATKMB goalkeeper Arindam Bhattacharja. Saturday’s final is the 23rd appearance for both custodians this season, one of whom will celebrate with the champions.