Two Injuries, A Sending Off And Some Bitter Fatorda Memories To Erase Would Need The More Than Just A Mammoth, Collective Effort To Get Over. Good Thing The Boys Had Belief With Their Beans For Breakfast…
Enough had taken place for the mood on either side of the door of room number 522, to be sombre, bitter and definitely, distraught. Miku had his fingers locked with each other and under his head while club physiotherapist Senen kept working on his ankle. This wasn’t an attempt to get him ready for kick-off at the Fatorda nine hours later. The verdict was out much earlier in the morning – the lethal Venezuelan who lit up the same fixture last season, wasn’t going to get his shot at an encore.
Also denied a stage was Erik Paartalu whose toe – of all body parts in his big frame – decided he wasn’t making the airport at Bengaluru.
Outside the room, Sunil Chhetri was perched upon the railing. Chairs aren’t for him. One was waiting for the barrage of profanities and then some more. But it wouldn’t come. Instead there was monk-like calmness and then a toothy grin, clearly directed at our visible panic. “Saalo, daro mat”. He went on to talk about all the right things Chencho had done at training and how much Xisco cared for the ball and how Udanta would pick his moment that night. You’re supposed to say these things, we thought. It must come on the manual with the captain’s armband.
Miku made his way to the lobby, stood gingerly on the better leg and hugged every one of the seventeen that were boarding the bus. We had an exchange of messages with Erik, baring our soul to him a little, sharing our apprehension a little, while he assured us that things would be alright. We don’t know how much of a church-goer the Aussie is, but in a bid to strengthen our faith, he even sent across a picture of him, Jesus and a few candles for good measure, all in one frame.
Everyone believed. Those who were starting, the ones coming in, the two that were crocked and they even dragged Jesus and the candles in the mix. Suddenly, the catastrophe we’d created didn’t seem like one anymore.
Down at the Fatorda, that belief was transferred to the pitch. The ball was moved around and moved around with grace. Firm voices were heard from those in blue shirts and the ones who were quiet, spoke with their feet. With a left heel, to be precise. Rahul Bheke isn’t one for too much talk. It takes an hour or two at a gathering and then a little goading, for him to stand up and take center stage for all of five minutes. He might not strain his vocal chords in a war cry, but he’ll be front of the firing line, shoulder to shoulder with you.
The nerves, meanwhile, had settled down by a lot, and then completely, when Bheke had a hit from Xisco roll on to his path. He ignored the captain’s plea for a little layoff and flicked the ball in with his left heel – all this while facing Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. We’d buy a ticket to watch Miku’s reaction, we really would. We had to instead settle for one from Chhetri which, we was equally priceless. As Bheke – arms stretched out and all that – took a few gangly strides before a jump and fist pump, the skipper held his hands to his head in happy disbelief. He wished he’d scored that one.
The beauty of the Fatorda as a venue is the kind of echo it throws around, and Goa does make its fair share of noise aided by vuvuzelas and the classic brass bands belting out Konkani hits that have, at some point, made their way into our lives, never to leave. The place erupted in the 72nd minute when local boy Brandon Fernandes needed a little help from Nishu Kumar’s heel and Jackichand’s shin before the ball cruelly trickled past Gurpreet, who was on the floor in the wrong direction. 1-1. Goa were back in it. The man-advantage Bengaluru had after Mohamed Ali picked up his second booking on the night, was nullified when Dimas Delgado was sent to take a shower he didn’t want, for a high foot on Boumous.
But no one in a blue shirt wavered that night. They had been believing all morning and had twenty more minutes to back it up. Chhetri had asked Udanta for a big night and his protégé wasn’t going to disobey. He answered by way of a cross as delightful as they come for the master to meet with a diving header. No celebration. There never is one. Instead Chhetri chose to have a conversation with the winger. He left the delirious howling to the traveling Blues on his left and the staff on his right. He owned a moment, broke it into two and just flung it on either side for everyone to enjoy.
The bus rolled into the team hotel and as soon as Miku heard it come to a grinding halt, he hobbled to down the lobby. He left them with hugs and that’s the only way he would welcome them back with. Erik was buzzing in delight on the team group over the phone. High-fives and more hugs were passed around. The conversations could wait for a day. But when they did happen, they were unlike any we’ve seen.
Wading into the sea with water at their waists, the boss and Rino Anto broke away from the rest of the group who were letting the waves toy with them post a recovery session. The defender, who has been playing impressive cameos, was getting more insight from the man at the helm in a chat that lasted for a bit. It said a lot about how much the boss values and evaluates a five minute role in a winning cause. It said a lot about how earnestly a player having to make do with scraps, wants to make those the best five minutes he’s played. And together, that one moment said everything about a team that wants to get better together, because there’s a lot more than just three points in a win.