Vasco da Gama's descendant Sahil Tavora makes Goa proud with special goal
Sahil Tavora's volleyed goal in the 88th minute was the most magical moment of the ISL final won by Hyderabad FC. For the boy from a proud Goan family, it was the moment he had prepared for his entire life.
Panjim: Sahil Tavora did in the ISL final on Sunday something that has not happened in Indian football for at least two years. He stunned a crowd into silence.
But the 88th minute volleyed goal for Hyderabad FC - the moment of magic which defined the ISL 2021/22 final - was just the third of Tavora's ISL career. It had been five years since his last goal, co-incidentally a 95th minute winner in the last league match of the 2016/17 season at the same Fatorda stadium.
It was an unlikely hero drifting in unmarked into the penalty box who decided Sunday's final, but for those that know him, Sahil Tavora has always lived for such moments of peak pressure.
"I just wanted to keep my shot on target. Somehow, the rebound fell perfectly for me. I had not had a clearer sight of goal all season," Tavora told The Bridge.
"I still have posters of Steven Gerrard all over my room. He has scored many such screamers. This is the closest I've come to replicating them," he said.
The partisan crowd at the Fatorda had booed every second of Hyderabad possession in the second half. But in Extra Time, only one chant was audible. It was for the 26-year-old Goan who had come off the bench to save the underdogs. The small section of their fans - accounting for around 10% of the crowd, crammed into one corner of the stands - was somehow drowning out Kerala's Manjappada. When a tired Bartholomew Ogbeche took too long to distribute his pass, the crowd chipped in helpfully - 'SAHIL TAVORA'.
Not entirely without reason. With that magical goal, Tavora had just become the 8th Indian to score in an ISL final. The goal had capped off what was his best ever season in the Indian top tier - he played 19 of 23 matches (his highest in the ISL) and had 4 pre-assists (the joint highest in the season), most of them in such crunch moments.
"There was a special atmosphere because fans were back after so long. The Hyderabad FC fans put on a great show despite being outnumbered, but my mind was more on the game than their chants. I'm glad my family and friends could witness the the biggest moment of my career," said Tavora.
"The last few years have not been easy. In sports, it is easy to find people who doubt you. Self-belief is something you need to build every day, I never compromised on giving my 100% in training. It felt like the effort of the last two-three years bore fruit in that moment," he said about the goal.
The Tavora family
Tavora's family had travelled to the match in a group of 25-30 people. Too many to allow them a seat in the Hyderabad section. Till 90 minutes, they were in the middle of a sea of Kerala fans. Only at ET did they get to cross over and join in the chanting.
The Kerala fans might have been successful in intimidating the Hyderabad players - Joel Chianese even looked slightly apologetic after being booed for a 20th minute tackle - but the Tavora family says the banter they shared with the opposition fans was all in good humour.
"The best part about Kerala fans is that even though they are loud and passionate, they are also respectful. Not the rowdy kind that look for trouble... The goal was a moment of euphoria," said Sahil's brother Nikhil Tavora.
Sahil Tavora hails from one of the best known football families in Goa. He is a 14th generation direct descendant of Vasco da Gama, the first European to reach India by sea. In more recent centuries, his grandfather Augusto de Noronha e Tavora, better known as Lube, was one of the biggest Indian patrons of football in the 1950s and 60s.
Almost all members of the Tavora family have played football till some level in Goa's vibrant local leagues and at the Don Bosco grounds in Panjim every evening. Sahil's uncle Luis Tavora, who convinced his parents that football could be a career path for him, is still sometimes seen here as the one older man playing with boys half his age. It was at this ground that Sahil first visualised scoring a late winner in a final.
While he has gone on to recreate his dream in the top tier of Indian football, those he has left behind say they always knew Sahil was meant for special occasions.
Rising to the occasion
Elison is one of Sahil's earliest friends and teammates. In their teenage years, the two formed a deadly duo for the Don Bosco school team and the Brasil Futebol Academia (BFA), a football academy started for Goan kids by Beto and Jose Barreto. Now a banker based in the UK, Elison was watching the ISL final on television on Sunday. His one-time teammate's special moment took him back a few years.
"He was always known for such moments of magic," said Elison.
He remembers Sahil as the teammate who always trained harder than other kids. "He would even drag me to practice during exams. It was clear to all that he was a driven guy, he wanted to be the best footballer of the team," he said.
"Sahil came back from a break in 2014 suddenly having transformed from a skinny kid to someone who looked like a professional footballer," said Elison.
It was that year Sahil first showed the world what he could do. A late wonder goal that left the crowd speechless. Playing in the Lusofonia Games, his solo effort in the 90th minute of a 2-0 win over Macau was the first sign that this Tavora was meant for bigger things. Incredibly, that late goal was also at the Fatorda.
"The three most special moments in my career have happened here, spaced by a few years. The one common factor in all the three matches was that I was playing a big match in front of everyone I knew. Maybe subconsciously I rise to the occasion," said Tavora.
His old friend Elison says the Tavora family's passion for football is the real reason why he has has reached where he has from being just a good footballer.
"His parents always used to come to watch him play, even if the matches were in the remotest parts. He was very emotional as a child. I remember he cried after we lost a final on penalties, but his parents were there to remind him that there would be a next time he would reach a final. That emotional support is something many others lacked," said Elison.
Tavora is just glad he finally made the 'next time' count - with 2 minutes left on the clock.