Aizawl: 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 in Aizawl 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 30 April 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 30 April 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 30 April, they will become the first club from Northeast India to do so.
Today'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.
As soon as the match began, Sony Norde gave an excellent pass from the left to Darryl Duffy whose shot, however, was saved by Aizawl goalkeeper Albino Gomes in the third minute.
That chance was perhaps the best Mohun Bagan had in the entire match as they got very few clear chances.
Then, it was the turn of Kamo Stephane Bayi who was in the thick of action as his got the better of a few Mohun Bagan defenders but his shot was saved by Debjit Majumder.
After the initial burst, the game became a bit sedate with end to end proceedings, though it was still fast-paced. Around the half hour mark the match was stopped for around five minutes because of poor visibility.
As soon as the match started after the brief stoppage, Syrian Al Amna made a fine run down the right flank, got past Raju Gaikwad and Anas Edathodika and sent a cross into the Mohun Bagan area but Debjit was at a great position to collect the ball.
Mohun Bagan got a free-kick just before the breather but Norde's effort was punched away by Albino Gomes.
Aizawl started the second half with intent to force a result. Five minutes into the second half, Al Amna got the better of Eduardo Ferreira on the left before finding Jayesh Rane on the edge of the area. But Rane's shot went narrowly wide.
The 62nd minute saw Amna charging down the Mohun Bagan box after stealing the ball from Sehnaj Singh. The Syrian midfielder passed the ball to R Laldanmawia but the Mizo winger's shot was blocked by a defender.
The goal eventually came in the 83rd minute when Al Amna's kick was misjudged by goalkeeper Majumder, who was beaten on the air, and Ralte was at the perfect position to head the ball into the empty net
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Updated Date: Apr 22, 2017 18:02:56 IST