Aizawl on brink of I-League glory after beating Bagan
Unheralded Mizoram side Aizawl FC beat Indian football giants Mohun Bagan by a solitary goal in a highly anticipated match to be within touching distance of their maiden I-League title here on Saturday.
Local player Zohmingliana Ralte scored the all-important goal at the 83rd minute in the penultimate round match in front of football crazy Aizawl fans at the packed Rajiv Gandhi Stadium and steered the team to the verge of creating history.
This stunning win put Aizawl on 36 points from 17 games, three more than Mohun Bagan (33 points from 17 matches), and now they need just a draw in their final league match against Shillong Lajong away from home on April 30 to bag the coveted I-League crown in their second season.
Mohun Bagan, who won their first I-League title two season's back, can still be the champions if they beat Chennai City FC at home in their final match on April 30 and Aizawl lose to Shillong Lajong, the same day.
It was a remarkable turnaround for Aizawl FC, coached by Khalid Jamil, who finished eighth in their debut season last year and were almost kicked out of the I-League.
If they win the I-League title on April 30, they will become the first club from Northeast India to do so.
Saturday's match, which saw a big build-up in a state where people are crazy about football, can be described as scrappy at best with the wet pitch following a heavy downpour before the game and a poor visibility due to the thick cloud cover over the stadium.
But the second half was much better with the cloud cover receding and the home side pressing hard for a goal with spells of domination over the visiting side.
Syrian Mahmoud Al Amenah was the best player on show as he was in the thick of things in most of the Aizawl attacks.
He also took the corner which completely beat Mohun Bagan goalkeeper Debjit Majumder for diminutive Ralte (nicknamed Zoeta) to rise the highest and nod home to the roar of the supporters.
Mohun Bagan had come into the match with a psychological advantage as they had won the first-leg match against Aizawl 3-2 but the Mizoram side showed how difficult it is to beat them at their fortress as this was their eighth win in nine matches. The first half was nothing much to write about as the wet pitch made the players a bit slippery and the poor visibility made it more difficult for them.
The referee even stopped the match for around five minutes in the first session due to poor visibility.
The sold-out crowd braved the chilly conditions with temperature hovering just over 20 degree Celsius. There was a lot of noise with the home supporters cheering every move of their players. Understandably, with the I-League title at stake, both the sides fielded their best elevens.