YOUR NEW I-LEAGUE CHAMPIONS, AIZAWL FC
In one of the biggest achievements in Indian football history, unheralded Aizawl FC on Sunday lifted the I-League crown after they held Shillong Lajong 1-1 in a tense match here.
Lajong went ahead in the ninth minute through A Dipanda but Aizawl equalised in the 67th minute through W Lalnunfela as the two sides split points in a highly-anticipated match at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
Despite Mohun Bagan defeating Chennai City FC 2-1 in a simultaneous match in Kolkata, Aizawl ran away with the title to script a fairytale story.
Aizawl ended the league on 37 points while Mohun Bagan finished second on 36. They have won the I-League title in their second season, becoming the first club from the Northeast to bag the title.
It was, in fact, the Leicester moment for the Aizawl side as their fortunes turned around in just a matter of a year after they were on the verge of relegation from the I-League last season.
Aizawl would not have at all played in the I-League this season as they finished eighth last year but after a few Goan sides pulled out of the country's top-flight league, they got a lifeline to stay afloat.
Their feat is comparable to the unheralded English Premier League side Leicester which won the title in 2015-16 season after they were on the verge of relegation the previous year.
A club whose budget is just around Rs 2 crore (Mohun Bagan spend the same amount in buying Sony Norde), it's an achievement of enormous proportion.
The match, the North-east derby, was though not without controversy as Aizawl played under protest after finding out that the title-deciding game would be conducted by officials from Bengal.
Aizawl protested because Kolkata side Mohun Bagan were also in title contention and playing a simultaneous match. The Northeastern club said that they have earlier requested the AIFF to appoint neutral match officials from other states.
In the other match, ten-man Mohun Bagan brilliantly bounced back through a Darryl Duffy goal to down Chennai City FC 2-1 but the result was not enough as they had to settle for a runners-up finish for the second successive time in I-League football here today.
Aizawl drew in Shillong in a dramatic second-half goal to pip Mohun Bagan to second spot with a slender one point difference in the lip-smacking twin Sunday showdowns.
The clash lived up to the expectation as there was high drama starting with the news that Aizawl conceded a ninth minute goal to leave the Rabindra Sarobar home crowd in a frenzy mode.
But in the 32nd minute, Mohun Bagan's U-22 recruit Nanda Kumar silenced the crowd when he darted the ball and scored with a gentle push, showing immaculate presence of mind. What followed was some missed opportunities with Balwant at the receiving end, but Mohun Bagan finally scored the equaliser in the 45+2 minute through captain Katsumi Yusa. The unlucky Balwant got this time right to set Katsumi up. The ball was in the air as Balwant, with his back to the goal, chested it down to Katsumi who put it past Karanjit Singh.