Sporting Clube de Goa's remarkable change in fortunes are best reflected in the eyes, and feat, of goalkeeper Bruno Colaco.
Signed only two months ago in frustrated attempts to bring respectability to the goalkeeping position, Colaco reluctantly joined Sporting Clube from Margao Sports Club. But since standing between the posts five matches ago, Sporting are on a record run, well almost.
Sporting and Colaco have gone without conceding a goal in five matches — amazing for a team that still has a negative goal balance, conceding 31 goals in the previous 13 matches.
"You can see that this is a different team. A team that can only get better," said technical director Alex Alvares, whose team comes face-to-face with Salgaocar Football Club at the Duler Stadium, Mapusa, on Wednesday.
The difference, like Alvares pointed out, is striking. It starts with the goalkeeper, then filters to the defence where new signing Angel Berlanga has been a stand out, and in the middle, Nigerian midfielder Ogba Kalu has only got better with each passing day. If only Spanish striker Juanfri could prove his credentials — the killer heat worries notwithstanding — Sporting would have little to ask.
Despite all of the apparent improvements, Wednesday's outing under the harsh sun at Duler will not be a walk in the park. Salgaocar, too, have shown similar improvements since the foreign players set foot, and, if anything, have only got more dangerous.
"OJ (Obatola) and Josimar (Martins) are combining effectively. The break came at the right time for us," said Salgaocar technical director Peter Valles.
Salgaocar will have scores to settle after a Rahul Kumar red-card left them bleeding in the first leg clash. Sporting Clube took advantage of the numerical advantage and hammered two goals that set them on the path to victory.
Salgaocar will be at full-strength with only the availability of Brazilian stopper-back Luciano Sobroza in doubt. Luciano has started training, seemed to have recovered from his ligament tear but a final decision on his "game time" will be made only on the morning of the match.
Interestingly, should Salgaocar score two or more goals they would move to the eighth spot, currently occupied by Sporting Clube. That should make for an interesting battle. Isn't it? [TOI]