Cometh the moment, cometh the man: Brandon's golazo takes Goa into ISL semifinal

Brandon Fernandes scored a worldie in FC Goa's 2-1 win over Chennaiyin FC in their ISL playoff clash on Saturday. Adimazes/ISL

If you wanted a goal to win you a crunch playoff, you'd be hard-pressed to do better than what Brandon Fernandes gave FC Goa on Sunday night.

It started innocuously enough: when Brandon picks the ball up just behind the halfway line there's nothing much on. He's never been the kind who can pick it up and dribble through half the opposition, never had the pace that's needed for that kind of golazo.

So the defence backs off -- what he can do after all, what he's done for a decade is pick a pass like no one else in Indian football -- and tries to close the passing lanes. If you can understand why the defenders are backtracking, what you can't comprehend till you rewind a bit is just why there's no midfielder next to him.

Jiteshwor Singh, the nominal defensive midfielder in Owen Coyle's all-out attack Chennaiyin, was tight to Brandon till just before the ball reaches him - arcing his run to fake receiving the ball to feet, Brandon zips away in a wide semicircle that completely befuddles Jiteshwor.

Five touches of the ball, Brandon running diagonally across to the right, and he's about ten metres outside the penalty box. By now, by that fifth touch, Brandon has slowed down considerably, and Jiteshwor is close by, lunging... but Brandon has had a lookup. He's assessed where Debjit Majumder is in the Chennaiyin goal, he's seen Carlos Martinez drag Lazar Cirkovic out of position just enough. No further looking up is needed -- head down, his sixth touch sees the ball lash into the near top corner.

Unstoppable. Top bins, as they say.

Talking after the match, Brandon would break down his goal, illuminating his genius along the way, "I was looking to take advantage of the space because they were looking to mark us man to man. I knew there was a lot of space behind me."

Brandon had been decent all half, but now, in the 45th minute, his dropping into his half and arcing of the run initially was a deliberate, planned move. Man to man, there isn't an Indian midfielder who can match Brandon, and this was a real-time demonstration.

He's not had the greatest season - scoring just the one goal before this and coming up with four assists - but this was a reminder that when it matters, he can come clutch.

On the sidelines, the usually stoic Manolo Marquez exploded in celebration. "Usually I don't celebrate much, but this was very very nice," he would say after the match. "Very very nice" in Marquez-speak is about as high a bit of praise as you'll get from him.

What he said after that, though, threw light on just what Brandon means to FC Goa. "Everyone feels something for Brandon no? He's very very special here." Having struggled with injuries throughout his career, Marquez was acknowledging just what the goal meant for the local lad who's called FC Goa home for seven years.

The match itself was a tight, even affair -- Noah Sadaoui's goal, running onto a superb Carl McHugh high-press tackle was supremely well taken (Coyle would call Noah the league's best player after the match). Cirkovic's goal with virtually the last kick of the first half was scrappy but arguably deserved on the balance of things.

In the second half, both sides were guilty of missing chances, as Chennaiyin threw themselves forward and Goa countered incessantly. There were nervy moments in goal, panicky moments in defence, and the ever-present was-it, was-it-not refereeing controversy (Coyle felt Dheeraj had handled the ball outside the box, as the last man, in one incident)...but in the end, what separated the winners from their opponents was the sheer quality of Fatorda's favourite, Brandon Fernandes.

Awaiting them now in the semis is a familiar foe, and Mumbai City will do well to remember what Brandon's capable of.