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The build up to the virtual I-league decider: Aizawl FC vs Mohun Bagan

Published at :April 21, 2017 at 4:07 AM
Modified at :April 21, 2017 at 4:07 AM
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Sourav Neogi

The upcoming match between Aizawl FC and Mohun Bagan is being counted as the title deciding match this year...

As the 10th edition of the Hero I-League comes to an end, the league is still undecided and is ripe for the grabs for the top two of the table. After four long months, Mohun Bagan has managed to grab the top spot on the table for themselves while they are sharing the spoils with Mizo outfit Aizawl FC, who had lost their top spot to Mohun Bagan with a defeat against defending champions Bengaluru FC. 

It has been two inspiring stories altogether for both these teams since the beginning of the season, one of which portrays the never say never attitude while another displays a fairy tale of the resilience of a bunch of relegation battlers to title contenders. Considering all the known facts and figures, let’s find out the unknown hurdles these two teams had to overcome to reach the pinnacle of the Indian football pyramid this season.

Matchday One: As it began

The I-League 2016-17 started as a matter of life and death for the Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan while it began as another season to survive in the Indian top flight for Highlanders Aizawl FC. Mohun Bagan had missed out on the I-League title in the previous season to Bengaluru FC for a mere two points, which in turn resulted in fans’ unrest and decreased morale among the Mariners’ players. Bagan head coach Sanjoy Sen had won the title the season before and had missed out on the second consecutive league title. 

This meant a huge blow for the century-old club, however, instead of breaking down in despair, the Green and Maroons strengthened their squad and started a new season afresh in the hope of reclaiming lost glory. The first match day saw Mohun Bagan defeat an inexperienced Churchill Brothers with a late goal at home. The fact that veteran striker Balwant Singh emerged as the lone scorer of the match after missing out of an entire year to injury helped to boost the Bagan players’ confidence, of which the result took effects for the games to come.

On the other hand, Aizawl FC, who concluded the 2014-15 season as relegation battlers in the 8th position, had appointed Mumbai FC head coach Khalid Jamil as the head coach of the club. Jamil, who had made a name for himself as a tough nut to crack in the league while being at the helm of his former club took a huge risk in his career as he took up the Aizawl FC job leaving an ambitious project such as Mumbai FC. 

The supporters of Aizawl FC have been tremendous this season and have helped the team in many a come-backs

However, luck turned for both Jamil and Aizawl, who overcame a gigantic task in the opening game against league giants East Bengal by drawing the match 1-1 and stealing one valuable away point. Aizawl displayed a beautiful brand of football in the fixture and scored early in the game but due to inexperience amongst their ranks, were forced to concede a late goal but left the pitch with their heads high. This started a new era for the Mizo club, which would later go on to be table toppers and title contenders in the process.

Match day five: A dark day

After the win in the first game week, Mohun Bagan picked up the pace rather quickly as they defeated Shillong Lajong, Minerva Punjab FC and Chennai City FC in the next three league fixtures, scoring eight goals in the process and conceding only one. Things got smooth for the Mariners, life became lighter at the club house but the fun times came to a halt when an overachieving Mohun Bagan side experienced a goalless draw against Dave Rogers’ DSK Shivajians side. Rogers deployed a brilliant defensive strategy against Mohun Bagan, completely nullifying the right wing, upon which Bagan depended mostly on creating the counter attacks, solo runs and cutting edge crosses for Darryl Duffy upfront. However, Sanjoy Sen took it rather sportingly and went on winning the first leg of AFC Cup Qualifier against Colombo FC in Sri Lanka with a score line of 1-2.

The Scottish striker will have to play a decisive role if the visiting Mariners want to win the game against resolute-defenders Aizawl FC

The league took a rather nasty turn for Aizawl FC on the same game week as the Highlanders were defeated by league newcomers Chennai City FC with a score line of 2-0. This urged Khalid Jamil to keep the rhythm in check. Chennai City FC, who displayed a counterattacking strategy against Aizawl took the best out of a rather young Aizawl defence. The visitors presented a dismal performance upfront as the Aizawl forwards kept wasting chances which led them to suffer the first major blow in the season.

Matchday Seven: Story of mixed feelings

This game week displayed one of the best league fixtures this year as Mohun Bagan hosted Aizawl FC in a goal fest. Both the teams showed an attacking brand of football. Bagan’s Scottish marksman Darryl Duffy scored an early goal in the second minute of the match and took the lead. Despite an early lead by Mohun Bagan, the first half ended 1-1, courtesy of a pinpoint strike by Jayesh Rane in the 41st minute. The second half saw three goals, as two of which ended for Mohun Bagan, allotting them three points in the process.

Matchday Twelve: good goes better, bad gets worse

The title race got even more complicated for Mohun Bagan in the 12th match day when they lost to league side Churchill Brothers in an away match at Tilak Maidan. The Kolkata giants lost as many as seven points in three consecutive league fixtures while Aizawl put together 13 points with four wins and a draw since their defeat to the Mariners.

The Highlanders have shown unity on and off the pitch and are absolutely super-heroes for their fans

This not only bolstered Aizawl’s chance for their maiden I-League title but made the remaining matches more complicated for Mohun Bagan as Sanjoy Sen was forced to keep his focus intact in the League rather than the AFC Cup. Aizawl went up to the top spot in the league standings while Mohun Bagan holed up in the third place, following both Aizawl and arch-rivals East Bengal in the first and the second position respectively.

Match day fifteen: Turning upside down

After a glorious display against Bengaluru FC on the April fool’s day, Mohun Bagan had finally overtaken Aizawl in the race towards the title. Bagan won the match 3-1 while Aizawl lost their rhythm on the same game week on 9th April in a narrow 1-0 defeat to defending champions Bengaluru FC, which saw them go down to the second position in the league standings.

With Sony Norde, Katsumi Yusa, Darryl Duffy, Balwant Singh and Jeje Lalpekhlua, Mohun Bagan boasts of the strongest attacking line-up in the league

However, with an identical count of points for both Mohun Bagan and Aizawl, Jamil’s defensive approach of the game cost Aizawl the goal difference against a superior Mohun Bagan. This forced them to the second spot and likely missing out on the league title this year.

Match day seventeen: THE JUDGEMENT DAY

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With both teams sharing same points and the goal difference settling the top spot, the forthcoming match day is going to be crucial for deciding the potential winner of the I-League this year. Mohun Bagan has defeated the Highlanders once already, however, with Aizawl’s scary home winning percentage indicate to a much different outcome of the match. Mohun Bagan travels to Mizoram with a defeat in their last game, in the AFC Cup against Maziya S&RC. As pointed out by several pundits and coaches alike, 35-36 should be the magic digit for any club this year, to win the title. With both clubs being standstill at 33 points each, it is yet to know who will emerge as the winner, not only of the match but also of the prestigious tournament in the recent future.

Mohun Bagan travel to Mizoram with a defeat in their last game, in the AFC Cup against Maziya S&RC. As pointed out by several pundits and coaches alike, 35-36 should be the magic digit for any club this year, to win the title. With both clubs being standstill at 33 points each, it is yet to know who will emerge as the winner, not only of the match but also of the prestigious tournament in the recent future.