FC Goa topped the league standings when it mattered the most

The Indian Super League (ISL) season six got more competitive when it was announced that its league winners will directly get an entry into the AFC Champions League (ACL) group stages. And FC Goa could not have topped the standings at a more opportune moment. 

Previously, Goa had held pole position after the league stages only once, in 2015 with Brazilian legend Zico at the helm, but had to return empty-handed after getting beaten by Chennaiyin in the final. They lost 3-2 in front of their home fans which further rubbed salt to their injury and therefore, the current feat holds more significance to the Goa faithful. 

Barring Goa, three other teams have finished on top of the table in the history of ISL. Chennaiyin stood first in 2014, Mumbai City in 2016 and Bengaluru FC in the last two seasons. Their feat is commmendable but certainly is no match for what FC Goa have achieved it. They managed to fend off all competitors in a season where the top spot held more significance than winning the ISL title.

Moreover, in the previous editions the league winners did not have any incentive. The clubs wanted to ensure a play-off spot and after a knockout berth was secured, the coaches were more concerned about protecting their key players for the semi-finals. At the start of the season, all the teams were merely focussed on qualifying for the play-offs as opposed to finishing as the league leaders. 

FC Goa tribute to Sergio Lobera

However, with an Asian Champions League spot on offer, the teams were motivated to aim for the top position after the league stages. All the teams who were in contention to finish in the pole position didn't give up until it was mathematically impossible to catch FC Goa. It was a two-way fight with ATK leading the pack before they stumbled against Kerala Blasters and then Chennaiyin FC. 

Goa have been consistent throughout the season and hardly put a foot wrong even when they were locked in a duel with ATK for the top spot in the last few matches. They kept their nerves and sailed smoothly to win six games in a row.

Although Sergio Lobera had to leave in an unceremonious manner, the Spaniard deserves all the applause for building a formidable side who will now go on to knock the doors of Asia. Under his aegis, Goa have always been a tough nut to crack and there couldn't have been a better tribute for him.