Brand I-League couldn't have received a better endorsement of its importance in the country's footballing structure than Minerva Punjab's logic-defying title win on Thursday.
For the second consecutive season, the Hero I-League has a first time victor - and it reflects the shifting landscape of Indian football. Churchill Brothers on the other hand got relegated after this defeat demotes them to 2nd division.
Rahul Das described how important tomorrow's match is going to be for the Minerva Punjab FC players. Chencho nearly scored the match's opener in the eighth minute when a low Girik Khosla cross wasn't dealt with properly by Monday and gave Chencho a chance but he couldn't make full use of it.
- The moment finally came in 16th minute when William converted from point blank range after a rebound from Girik's shot which fell right into his feet. However, a spirited Gokulam restored parity through Henry Kisekka in added on time in the first half. They beat Churchill Brothers 1-0 to finish atop.
They become the first team from Punjab to win the league since the JCT last won it in 1996-97.
- In the 49th minute Akash Sangwan's pin point corner kick met a Chencho header but his effort went just wide of target.
The big chance for the visitors came in the 61st minute when Ceesay created space inside box to set himself up for a shot but ball just went over the crossbar.
In another show of combination play, Chencho was brilliantly set up by William in 73rd minute in the box but he chose to cut inside and in doing so lost the ball possession.
Minerva centre back Eric Dano got a chance in the 80th minute when he took a shot after a deflected corner kick but it was nowhere near target.
If there had been one player who had hauled East Bengal back into title contention, it was Nigerian striker Dudu Omagbemi, and he would bring them back into this final day race with a headed goal a little over halfway through the second half.
Heading into the final matchday of the I-League, four clubs, including Kolkata giants East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, and Neroca FC had chances of clinching the coveted title.
"I am responsible for East Bengal's performance". To put it into context, NEROCA lost 4 games throughout the season, while EB and Bagan lost three each. "One does not always need stars to win the title", said an emotional Bajaj after the match.
"The League has been a very competitive and exciting one and it was nice to see four teams having a chance to win it on the final day". Ryuji Sueoka did it for Salgaocar in 2010-11.
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