Kolkata: It is an universal truth that the sun rises in the east. But for a certain I-League team named Aizawl FC, it is the north-east, from where a new sun has risen. They have finally done it. After having had a terrific season, the Highlanders have finally etched their name in the history books as they have become the first team from the north-east to win the I-League.
After they went past the 2015 champions Mohun Bagan in their last encounter by a 1-0 margin, they needed just a solitary point to get their hands on the title. After their 1-1 draw against Shillong Lajong in their last I-League fixture on Sunday, they finally won their maiden I-League title.
The crowd at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Aizawl witnessed history in the making as Aizawl FC drew 1-1 against Shillong Lajong. Yet, it didn’t look that simple and easy for the eventual champions as they conceded a goal as early as in the 9th minute.
But champions, the say know how to win and Aizawl, who wouldn’t give up so easily on scripting history equalised in the 67th minute through a ripper of a free kick by William Lalnunfela whose goal ensured that his team were declared the winners when the final whistle was blown. Khalid Jamil’s men had made history.
It was a tense day in Kolkata as well as former champions Mohun Bagan hosted Chennai City FC in their last encounter. The Mariners needed a win anyhow as anything short of that wouldn’t be enough for them to get to the title.
The loud cheers were silenced after Chennai City FC got the lead in the 31st minute courtesy a goal by winger Nandhakumar. But the men in maroon and green equalised soon as Katsumi Yusa netted the ball safely towards the right side of the keeper.
Englishman Darryl Duffy too scored in the second half but a 2-1 win wasn’t enough for them, as they finished as the second best for a second consecutive season.
This would undoubtedly go down as one of the most important historical moments in Indian football as the north-eastern club ended their successful campaign with 37 points from 18 games. Mohun Bagan, their closest challengers to the title ended with 36, a point less than the eventual champions.
Quite interestingly,this was the similar case with the Mariners in the 2015-2016 season as well. They has lost out on a successful title defense last year when they missed out on a second consecutive I-League win by just two points, as Bengaluru FC edged turned out to be the eventual victors.
What makes this win even more special for the Highlanders is the fact that they had been relegated despite finishing eighth and it was only because two Goan clubs opted out of the competition that the AIFF (All India Football Federation) decide to put Aizawl back in the main league once again. They haven’t let this huge opportunity go in vain as they have indeed battled various odds to firstly make it to the biggest stage in Indian football and to win it.
Aizawl FC would be forever etched in the minds of Indian football fans, who would see this as being no less than a success story.
One can say that this north-eastern club has, quite precisely followed the footsteps of Sikkimese Bhaichung Bhutia. Known as the ‘Sikkimese Sniper’ Bhaichung became the first Indian footballer to sign a contract with an European club, back in 1999.
Bhaichung was also the second Indian after Mohammad Salim to play for professional football in Europe. In his illustrious career for India which ended in 2011, he appeared in 107 matches scoring a record of 43 goals. Bhaichung’s story too has been inspirational and it wouldn’t be wrong to say that Aizawl FC have walked on a similar path and have now, made history.
The club whose budget was only two crore, have surely proven that to win on the biggest stage, one needs a lot of heart. They have shown a lot of character and overcome all odds in clinching their first ever I-League title. Khalid Jamil and his boys would celebrate long and deep into the night as football fans in Mizoram would only hope that this is just the beginning of a new legacy in Indian football.