Aizawl FC beat Mohun Bagan 1-0 in a rain-soaked match on Saturday to lead the points table and go into the final week needing only a draw in their final away game with Shillong Lajong to claim their first I-League title. (Aizawl FC vs Mohun Bagan I-League match highlights)
For hosts Aizawl FC, defender Zohmingliana Ralte headed the goal from Syrian midfielder Mahmoud al-Amna’s 83rd minute corner. The win gave Aizawl FC 36 points, three more than Bagan but the result made the two teams even head-to-head with the Bengal giants having defeated the highlanders 3-2 in Kolkata earlier.
Aizawl FC needed to win Saturday’s match 2-0 to win the title, and they missed the chance when defender Lalramchullova failed to pass the ball to an unmarked al-Amna close to the Bagan penalty box.
Much of the match was played in poor visibility with mist covering the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium on the edge of plateaued hill. If Bagan had the upper hand in the first half, Aizawl FC stepped up in the second to put the pressure on the Bengal team.
Bagan muffed a chance in the third minute when the British, Darryl Duffy, put through by Japanese Katsumi Yusa, got past two Aizawl defenders but not goalkeeper Albino Gomes. Aizawl’s top scorer Kamo Stephane Bayi too had a chance in the eighth minute but shot straight at Bagan keeper Debjit Majumder.
Bayi, replaced towards the end of the game, was a bit off-colour as was forward Azharuddin Mallick but al-Amna, Jayesh Rane and Brandon Vanlalremdika maintained the tempo. Bagan relied on Katsumi and Haitian midfielder Sonny Norde while homeboy Jeje Lalpekhlua had an off day.
Bagan coach Sanjoy Sen said his team was denied a penalty when Jeje was brought down in the Aizawl penalty box in the 4th minute. But he had no complaints against the quality of refereeing.
“Luck was not in our favour and we should have got that penalty. But hats off to Aizawl for a good game; our boys played well too. Today was one of those days when the result does not reflect the performance,” Sen said.
The Bagan team, he said, had stuck to the plan of preventing al-Amna and Rane from building up the attack from the midfield. “It worked for most part of the game.”
Sen had a word of praise for the footballing acumen of people in Mizoram. “We never felt like (we were) playing an away game. The crowd was very sporting, and this match was a great advertisement for football in India.”
All, however, was not lost, Sen said. “We now have a must-win match against Chennai City on April 30.”
For Aizawl coach Khalid Jamil, the victory was the perfect birthday gift. He turned 40 on Friday.
“A 2-0 win would have been ideal, but the bottom line is we won a tough game. It is a great achievement for the boys who put in a lot of hard work while enjoying every moment on the field,” he said.
The victory, Jamil said, wiped out some failures and “bad memories” of the past. Mumbai FC had relieved him as coach after the 2015-16 season.
“I did not know any of the Aizawl players when I took charge before this I-League season. Frankly, I did not expect the team to come this far. The boys have made me proud,” he said.
But, he cautioned, the celebration will come only after the away match with Shillong Lajong in Meghalaya capital Shillong on April 30. “Our focus has shifted to the last match, a real tricky one,” he said.
Aizawl would be going into their final match with two of their main players – captain and midfielder Alfred Jaryan and defender Ashutosh Mehta – suspended after receiving their fourth yellow cards for the season during Saturday’s match with Bagan.