After an entertaining draw at NorthEast United, the 2019-20 ISL league stages have ended with Chennaiyin in fourth place, one point behind Bengaluru. This means that the first semifinal will see Chennaiyin face table-toppers Goa, while Bengaluru will go up against second-placed ATK in the other fixture.
In an open match on a rainy night in Guwahati, a much-changed Chennaiyin lineup took the lead with a strike from Afghan defender Masih Saighani before a controversial incident saw Chennaiyin left back Tondonba Singh sent off for a tackle in the penalty box. Martin Chaves converted the resulting penalty to bring NorthEast level. With NorthEast dominating the ten men of Chennaiyin, Chaves gave them the lead with a spectacular volley from the edge of the box. This appeared to have given the hosts a consolatory win at the end of a rather disappointing season but it wasn't to be. Owen Coyle rung in the changes and brought first-teamers Lallianzuala Chhangte and Jerry Lalrinzuala on to try and save the game, and the former delivered with a sublime shot from just inside the box to draw them level deep into stoppage time.
The result means Coyle has capped a remarkable about-turn this season for the two-time ISL champions, which saw them gain an implausible 20 points from 24 available in the last eight games of the campaign to turn around what looked a un-salvageable start to the season.
They take this momentum into the semifinal with FC Goa with whom they share playoff history - the two of them played each other in the most entertaining final in the young history of the competition back in 2015, which ended 3-2 in favour of Chennaiyin. Their head-to-head this season favours Goa, though Coyle's men did push them to the limits in a 4-3 defeat in December.
In the other semifinal, ATK hold the head-to-head advantage against defending champions Bengaluru this season, but this will be their first meeting at the playoffs stage.
With so much riding on winning the ISL in terms of qualification for Asia, there will be added incentive when the semifinals commence this weekend.
NOTE - The League has announced that, this year, the away goals rule will apply for the semifinals.
Semifinal 1, first leg - February 29, Chennaiyin FC vs FC Goa, Chennai
Semifinal 1, second leg - March 7, FC Goa vs Chennaiyin FC, Goa
Semifinal 2, first leg - March 1, Bengaluru FC vs ATK, Bengaluru
Semifinal 2, second leg - March 8, ATK vs Bengaluru FC, Kolkata