It started in the 24th minute. Goa had already scored a penalty (Igor Angulo, perfectly placed) and earlier had had a legitimate shout for another turned down. Jorge Ortiz and Alexander Romario had spent most of the opening twenty minutes making Mandar Rao Dessai and Vignesh D question their career choices. Edu Bedia, Princeton Rebello and Glan Martin had bossed the midfield. Goa had had all of the ball. They were well on top of league shield winners Mumbai City.
Then, 24 minutes in, Seriton Fernandes conceded their first corner.
Mourtada Fall, six foot five and 90 odd kilos of pure muscle, strode forward and smashed into Adil Khan. Two minutes later, he bundled Goa keeper Dheeraj Singh into his own net. They were both brave, clean challenges from the Goa players. They were also, as it turned out, match-defining ones from Fall. Adil walked around for the majority of the first half rubbing his forehead, trying to shake himself back to 100%. He also spent the rest of the match barely keeping up with the big Mumbai defender. Dheeraj, meanwhile, hardly made a clean connection with a set-piece after that.
The fear of Fall had been instilled in them.
Now, most observers of the ISL expect a certain brand of football from Sergio Lobera. One-touch passing, direct running, hogging the ball. In this first leg of the season's first semi, they were doing none of that. Instead, all of Mumbai's menace came when Fall languidly made his way into the opposition box on a corner or a wide freekick.
Hugo Boumous equalised just before the half time break with a combination of luck and pure skill, a stunning volley after an inadvertent deflection mid-run, but he was never the main threat. Nor was it Bart Ogbeche or the hopelessly out-of-position Adam Le Fondre. For all of Mumbai's lavish attacking riches, they had to look to the man behind them all for a consistent goal threat.
To their credit, FC Goa, missing Ivan Gonzalez and Alberto Noguera due to suspension, kept at it. In the second half, Saviour Gama scored a spectacular goal to give them the lead -- running from the halfway line, scything through Mumbai's ridiculously weak right flank and smashing in a low, hard drive right into the far bottom corner of Amrinder Singh's net.
But ninety seconds later, Fall happened. Again. This time, though, he had a tangible impact on the scorecard, not just a Goan body.
- Indian Super League: Stream LIVE on ESPN+ (U.S. only)
It was all fairly straightforward. Another corner, another Jahouh delivery. Cleared unconvincingly at the first attempt, Jahouh casually wafted it back in to find Fall unmarked right in the middle of the six yard box. Adil and James Donachie nowhere to be seen. Dheeraj rooted to his line. A stoop, a twist of the neck, a clean connection, and it was 2-2.
Fall celebrated with a non-celebration, folding his hands and bowing to the camera (an acknowledgement to fans of his former club, he would later say). On the field, though, it was Goa's defence doing the bowing to him.
Goa continued to do more with the ball, to create more. But every single time they conceded a corner they were quaking in their boots. In all Mumbai had 8 corners, and on each they didn't even attempt to disguise their intentions -- GET. THE. BALL. TO. FALL. They didn't even have to. For the duration of the match, he had run that Goa penalty box. More consistent and better deliveries, and the big man could well have had more.
As it was, though, it was right outside his own box that Fall would put the final stamp of controversy right back into the phrase 'a controversy-filled match'. Literally. In the second minute of second half stoppage time, he flew in two-footed, studs showing, and smashed into Princeton Rebello's shins. The young Goan playmaker had to be stretchered off. Inexplicably, the referee decided that was a yellow-card offence only.
More last-ditch Fall-inspired defending later, Goa as a collective unit fell to the floor, having left it all out there. They had been the better side, in almost every sense, but for the one matter. They had been bruised and bullied. And they trudged off bearing all the marks of having gone to battle with the Indian Super League's most terrifying footballer.
Before Monday, they will need to find a way to defend better at corners. To exorcise their tormentor. To stop Fall. Unless, of course, the AIFF Disciplinary Committee does it for them.