Homecoming is always a great feeling. Very few joys in life compare. You could see the excitement on his face when the squad boarded the flight en route Goa. The prospect of going back to his hometown and even more so, that of facing his former side was something he was looking forward to ever since his journey with Mumbai City began.
“Goa’s a football crazy state. My family always had a liking to football and it’s because of them that I took interest in the sport. My supportive parents and my brother, they have been the biggest blessing I’ve had on my journey so far. They’ve made some incredible sacrifices for me and everything I do is for them,” said Sahil.
Calmly sipping on his coffee, the 22-year-old Panjim-born midfielder said that as a budding footballer, he couldn’t have hoped for better company to learn from. “I signed for Dempo from Sesa FA just before my 18th birthday. I spent almost 3 years at Dempo where I got to rub shoulders with some of the stalwarts of Indian football at the time like Clifford Miranda, Samir Naik, Mahesh Gawli among others. I learned a lot from them in training and during games.”
“Last year with FC Goa was my first year in the ISL and although we didn't have a good season as a team, it was a positive one for me personally as I scored a couple of goals and put in some good performances whenever I got the chance. It was also great to learn under a coach like Zico who is a great name in world football and under our captain Lucio among many other great players,” he added.
Almost fittingly, Sahil Tavora was handed just his second start of the season against the team where he made his Indian Super League debut. Replacing Abinash Ruidas, Sahil slotted in an unfamiliar left wingback position but was unwavered about the challenge of facing his former teammates.
“Before the season began it was definitely one of the fixtures that really excited me the most and I was looking forward to it. When the coach told me that I would start in this game, I was thrilled to be playing in front of my friends and family and was completely focused on winning the game. It was a crucial game for all of us. I wanted nothing else but 3 points and we’re so happy we could go back home with a win,” he said with much gusto.
After being pitted up against the likes of Brandon Fernandes and Mandar Rao Dessai, Sahil put in a fine shift at the Fatorda as the Islanders ran out winners in a rollercoaster 4-3 victory. Balwant Singh showed impeccable foresight and a poacher’s instincts as he deflected a goal-line clearance from Mohammad Ali in the back of the net late in the 86th minute.
“To me, it meant the world! My family and friends were in the stands supporting us and quite predictably, were outnumbered by the Goa fans. To give them that joy despite of that, it felt all the more sweeter!”
“For all of us, it was a crucial victory against a tough side in a hostile atmosphere in our chase for the top four. To win like that, it gives a tremendous confidence boost moving forward!” said Sahil.
The gaffer Alexandre Guimaraes was delighted with the result and getting a league double over Sergio Lobera’s high-flying side. Although he asserted that his plan against FC Goa worked perfectly, he urged the players to focus on the big challenge ahead in the form of today’s opponents, Jamshedpur FC.
“The coach, like all of us, was thrilled with the victory but told us not to get carried away and to take this momentum into the next game and perform the same way and fight for the three points once again.”
This was the first time in the history of the club that Mumbai City have recorded a victory after coming back from a deficit of goals and Sahil credits this to the sheer fight and hunger of the entire squad. “Everyone at the club including myself wants nothing more than a spot in the playoffs. That's been our primary objective from day one and it means the world to the club and to each player. Its what we train hard for each day!” he said.
Today’s opponents Jamshedpur FC come with a reputation of being the country’s meanest defence. The sides played 2-2 draw at the JRD Tata Sports Complex in the first game of the year and if our trip to Jamshedpur was anything to go by, their defence wasn’t the only tough part of the entire game.
“I think it's one of the toughest away trips to make. The travel is not easy, the weather conditions were anything but friendly, there’s a hostile atmosphere and to top it off, they are a tough and organized unit on the pitch. They have a great set of fans who came out in numbers and the Furnace, as they called it, really felt like a big pressure pot!” he said.
With potential qualification chances at stake and a chance to break into the top 4, today’s game holds paramount importance for both Jamshedpur FC and Mumbai City FC, placed at 5th and 6th respectively.
“We're completely focused on this crucial game. We want to fight for all three points yet again, this time in front of our home fans and get back-to-back wins going for us. I think it's a very important game to put us in a position to fight for the top 4,” said Sahil, resonating the entire squad’s mentality ahead of today’s six-pointer.
Alexandre Guimaraes led Mumbai City to the top of the table in the league stage last season and has clearly stated his intent on qualifying for the playoffs for a second season running. With the Islanders going into this game sitting in 6th place, Sahil is confident that the spirit and ambition of the boys will be crucial in taking the club over the finish line.
“I believe we have a strong team and a good team spirit in the camp going into the business end of the tournament. If we can fight like the way we did and not give up like we showed in the last game (against Goa), I think we can definitely get there come the 3rd of March. It’s a long way to go, and we have six very important games to give our 100% in,” he added.
The gaffer made a rallying cry to the Mumbai City faithful to flock the stands tonight in the pre-match press conference yesterday to give his side a virtual push into the top 4 and Sahil is looking forward to seeing the fans too.
“We've got a great set of fans and all I could say is just more of the same really! They make it a great atmosphere to play in and they definitely push us to give that extra mile. They are definitely our 12th player on the pitch! We love you guys, but we need you now more than ever. We want you behind us and win games for you and with you.”