He cuts a calm figure on most days, and in most situations and does it with a smile. His favourite lime mint takes up a few minutes of conversation before he sits down to talk up what will be the most important 90 minutes of the season. We preview the Islanders’ 100th Hero ISL game and the biggest one of the season so far with the club’s all-time record goalscorer Modou Sougou.
Mumbai City FC will walk out at the Arena on Friday knowing that a win, and only a win will secure a spot in the semi-finals for Jorge Costa’s Islanders. But that’s not all. The Islanders’ opponents, Chennaiyin FC find themselves in a similar situation - a win for the Marina Machans will make them the fourth and final side to make to the playoffs. For both sides, this is it. It’s make or break, and Sougou knows it.
“It is nothing short of a final for us. This is the most important game for us in the season. It is all or nothing. It’s fairly straightforward - we either kill Chennaiyin or get killed. It is a very crucial game for us. But I’m confident we will come out on top.”
Our Friday’s opponents, Chennaiyin FC, have seen a rather dramatic reversal of fortune over the course of the season. The last time the Islanders faced the side from Chennai, they were under the tutelage of Englishman John Gregory. That was a team that had struggled to score a goal in their first four games of the season, playing the majority at home.
It wasn’t too long before Gregory was relieved of his duties, being replaced by the well-known Owen Coyle – a man who brought in tremendous experience and coaching pedigree. Over the last 10 games since taking charge, Coyle has overseen a complete overhaul of the Chennaiyin side.
“Of course, the new coach coming in has changed a lot for Chennaiyin. The squad has remained the same but the coach has brought out the positive qualities of the players. They’re playing faster, better and most importantly, with confidence”, remarked the 35 year old forward about the newfound form of Friday’s visitors.
Under Owen Coyle, it’s not just the results that have seen a change. Chennaiyin have forgotten their finishing woes from earlier on in the season and seem to have found their scoring form, winning six of the ten games, scoring a whopping 25 goals and conceding just 12.
Talking about how the Islanders will be looking to defend a free-scoring Chennaiyin FC, Sougou added, “We need to win this game and Chennaiyin need to win it as well. Both the teams are under tremendous pressure. In the last five games, they have been the best team in the ISL. They are a very different side right now from the last time we played against them, we know that and we are confident we can restrict them and qualify. We are ahead of them in the points table, which shows we have quality too. We have one choice - three points, nothing less or nothing more.”
A familiar face will be making a return to the Mumbai Football Arena in the form of Chennaiyin FC captain Lucian Goian. The Romanian defender will turn out at the Arena in opposition colours for the first time after he parted ways with club at the end of last season. Sougou, who played with Goian during the 2018-19 season said, “It will be a special night for Lucian. He did well here in the last three seasons but life goes on. The players move on but the club remains. That is football."
"I hope the fans too receive him in a nice way and I’m sure he will be happy to come back to Mumbai. But I'm hoping he won't be too happy when he's returning back to Chennai", quipped Sougou, before picking up his little box of mints and his boots for training.
We’re hoping Sougou brings his scoring boots along on Friday. Like he aptly put it, it is all or nothing.
Form Guide (Last Five Games)
Mumbai City FC: L-W-D-W-L
Chennaiyin FC: W-W-W-D-W
Amine Chermiti is back in the reckoning for Islanders after serving a one-game suspension against FC Goa.
Owen Coyle’s Chennaiyin FC arrive in Mumbai with a fully fit squad and without any suspensions.
Who Said What
Jorge Costa: All the hard work we’ve put in since day one of our pre-season will depend on tomorrow. We have 90 minutes to win this game and I believe we’ll do it.
Subhasish Bose: We will go into the game knowing we only have one option and that is to win. It is nothing short of a final and we’re ready to do everything we can.
Where to watch it
The game will kick off at 7.30pm IST and will be broadcast on the Star Sports Network, Hotstar and Jio TV for all viewers in India. For our global fans, you can follow all the action LIVE on our official Twitter account - @MumbaiCityFC
16 Feb: ATK 1-3 Chennaiyin FC (Krishna 40’ Crivellaro 7’, Schembri 39’, Valskis 90’)
19 Feb: Jamshedpur FC 0-5 FC Goa (Coro 11’, Boumous 70’, 90’, Jacki 84’, Fall 87’)
Fixtures coming up:
20 Feb: NorthEast United FC vs Hyderabad FC (Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium, Guwahati 7.30pm)
21 Feb: Mumbai City FC vs Chennaiyin FC (Mumbai Football Arena, Mumbai 7.30pm)
22 Feb: Bengaluru FC vs ATK (Sree Kanteerava Stadium, Bengaluru 7.30pm)