If this is the end of the I-League, it would have left a lot of people in the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and its commercial partners chagrined. All hail Aizawl FC as India champions but the way Mohun Bagan chased them and the manner in which excitement ebbed and flowed from Shillong to the Sarovar stadium was proof of this largely moribund competition’s ability to surprise.
Aizawl FC scripted the most magical story in recent times in Indian football by drawing 1-1 with Shillong Lajong FC . William Lalnunfela scored a 67th minute equaliser for Aizawl FC after Dipanda gave Lajong the lead in the ninth minute.
Mohun Bagan needed to win against Chennai City FC to overcome league leaders Aizawl FC’s advantage. They did just that but Lalnunfela’s goal meant that I-League found a new champion.
In Kolkata, Mohun Bagan, down to 10 men, after goalie Debjit Majumder was shown the red card for stepping out in the 80th minute, came from behind to beat newbies Chennai City FC, who punched well above their weight with goalie Karanjit Singh leading the way on the last day of the 10th I-League.
Katsumi Yusa neutralised Nandhakumar S’s 31st minute strike in the second minute of first-half stoppage time. Darryl Duffy’s smartly placed shot, off a Jeje Lalpekhlua assist, made it 2-1 but with Aizawl FC having drawn 1-1 against Shillong Lajong after trailing, second was the best they could finish.
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Mohun Bagan ended on 36 points while Aizawl FC became India’s best with 37 points. In three seasons, the worst Mohun Bagan, champions in 2014-15, have finished is second.
Aizawl FC had an early tremor in Shillong and its reverberations were felt in Kolkata. As news of Shillong Lajong leading spread, the Rabindra Sarovar stadium shook even though it was more than half empty. What it also did was make Mohun Bagan try too hard.
They hurried with everything and it meant Pritam Kotal’s deliveries went from poor to poorer. When Mohun Bagan managed to reach their strikers, Balwant Singh made waste in haste. In the 29th minute, he failed to direct a tap-in after Sony Norde sold a dummy to a delivery from Katsumi Yusa. And then a goal happened but at Mohun Bagan’s end.
Playing a high line, Mohun Bagan paid for leaving areas around their goal untenanted. Edwin Sydney Vanspaul found Nandhakumar S and the man who had scored against East Bengal at home put the visiting team ahead in the 31st minute. After doing some early running, Chennai City had faded out but a defensive brain fade meant they had the lead. And it spread more panic among Mohun Bagan ranks.
In the 41st, Balwant aimed for the far post which Chennai City FC goalie Karanjit Singh had covered and couldn’t keep it on target. Two minutes later, he couldn’t reach a Yusa cormer-kick. Karanjit saved a fine effort from Darryl Duffy as “we shall overcome” reverberated around the eco-sensitive Sarovar area. In the 33rd minute too, Duffy was denied by a reflex save by Karanjit.
Here goes the final whistle. Mohun Bagan officially ends this years' I league campaign with a second spot at the points table.— Mohun Bagan (@Mohun_BaganAC) April 30, 2017
It was expected that Chennai City FC would try and crowd Mohun Bagan out. What was not was Mohun Bagan’s inability to maintain a modicum of calm. Till Katsumi Yusa ensured half-time was taken with the team were level on 1-1 with an opportunistic first-timer after Sehnaj Singh’s delivery was smartly chested by Balwant for Yusa to fire home.
Mohun Bagan were more composed in the second half and were clearly the better team. But they needed Shillong Lajong to better Aizawl FC for a miracle to happen.