Minerva Punjab win their maiden I-League title

Yolanda Curtis
March 9, 2018

William Opoku Asiedu scored in the 15th minute of the match to put Minerva ahead at the Tau Devi Lal Stadium in Panchkula, after which the team's defense rose to the occasion and ensured the scoreline stayed the same till the end of the match.

East Bengal are desperate to end their 14-year title drought, having last won the tournament in the 2003-04 season, when it was called the National Football League (NFL).

Churchill Brothers, needing a win to avoid relegation, also threw more bodies into attack and started pumping balls into the Minerva box.

Minerva Punjab started the first half really well as the attacking trio of Chencho, William and Girik combining really well to put Churchill's defence in jeopardy. 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.

Minerva should have doubled its lead in the 64th minute when Kassim Aidara played one-two with Chencho but the latter's cross towards Sangwan, who was unmarked, went out for a goal kick. In the process, they created history by becoming the first team from North India to win the Hero I-League.

Ceesay took a long shot in the 54th minute but Kiran was there to save comfortably.

In another show of combination play Chencho was brilliantly set up by William in the 73rd minute in the box but he chose to cut inside and in doing so lost possession.

Gangandeep Bali got a chance to get his name on the score-sheet but his weak effort didn't trouble the keeper. Both Bagan and East Bengal finished with 31 points, but the former took the third spot due to superior head-to-head record.

Minerva have picked up five points (win and draw against Bagan and another draw against East Bengal) whereas East Bengal have managed to gather only four points (win and a draw against Minerva). Coming into Thursday's game, Minerva had won five matches and drawn one match at home with two losses - against East Bengal and Gokulam Kerala. For Minerva, it's a do or die match for them to win the I-League and for us also it's a do or die match for survival in the I-League.

Just after the break, East Bengal appealed for a penalty when Dudu's shot struck the hand of a Neroca defender, but referee Rowan Arumughan waved play on.

"Mohun Bagan is a big team but for us, we will play with our heart especially tomorrows game". 2nd placed NEROCA mustered 9 wins of 18.

The I-League title race is down to the most dramatic final day in the competition's history with as many as four contenders, across three matches, seeking a coronation to remember. Ryuji Sueoka did it for Salgaocar in 2010-11.

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