From the stands to the middle, Thapa sees it all

Panaji: When Chennaiyin FC won their first Super Indian League ( ISL ) title in 2015, Anirudh Thapa he watched closely from the stands of the Nehru stadium in Fatorda. Despite FC Goa losing control in their homeland after the late drama in thriller 2-3, Thapa, who was with the AIFF Academy that time, was cheering on the visitors, thanks to friends at the club.

The next season, Thapa joined the club in a dreamy move and made his debut at the same venue, with a high and entertaining 4-5 loss. He had a role to play in Chennaiyin's second win, but as the two-time champions prepare to face ATK In another final on Saturday, the midfielder should feel the weight on his shoulders.

When I started I didn't have that much experience and I never knew how far it would go because at that time there were so many players and I was happy playing alongside them and learning. Now this is my fourth season and I'm doing well, but there is more to come, Thapa told TOI on Thursday.

Chennaiyin languished at the bottom of the table in December and his rise to play-off qualification only started when Owen Coyle took over John Gregory in December. Since then, they have only improved in their last 14 games with the Scottish coach, which helped them secure a play-off position. In the first leg semifinal at home, Thapa, 22, scored his only goal so far, but an important one in the 4-1 demolition of league scorers FC Goa. On the return leg they held on to a 2-4 loss and entered their third final.

“We knew that Goa plays different types of soccer and everyone expected them to qualify. We had the advantage when two of its main players were not playing and we scored as many goals in the first leg. We knew when we got to Goa, we can play our game because they will be under pressure, said Thapa.

The international has the highest assists (6) for an Indian and has been the heart of the team that does not use foreigners in the midfield. He played 19 matches, losing only once to Bengaluru FC when they failed to score. She has formed a solid partnership alongside former Minerva Punjab teammate Germanpreet Singh and sometimes Edwin Vanspaul.

Chennaiyin had lost by a solitary goal to ATK at home in the first leg but responded strongly in the return leg with a 3-1 victory in Kolkata. However, Thapa believes past records will count for nothing in the final.

“This season we were at the bottom and six games without a victory. Then the last eight games we had to win, and we were playing under pressure in every game. It will be incredible to win and lift the title here, ”said Thapa.

ATK and Chennaiyin are the most successful clubs in the history of ISL and share four titles between them, winning two each. Thapa already has one and now wants to see Chennaiyin win another one, this time not watching from the stands, but running the show in the middle at Fatorda.