New Delhi: Trendsetting Mizoram club Aizawl FC on Sunday became the first team from North-East India to win national football league, I-League. It was, indeed, the Leicester moment for Aizawl.
Needing a point to win the title, the Aizawl-based team played out a draw with Shillong Lajong FC in the North-East derby.
One point from the match was enough to pip heavyweights Mohun Bagan at the top of the points table. Bagan themselves beat Chennai City 2-1 in a match which witnessed goalkeeper Debjit Majumder send off in the 80th minute. Both the matches started simultaneoulsy on the final day of the season.
In Shillong, Cameroonian forward Dipanda Dicka struck in the ninth minute to shock the travelling fans, but a dominant Aizawl found the much needed equaliser in the 67th minute, thanks to a William Lalnunfela strike.
Khalid Jamil's men ended the season with 37 points after 18 matches, one more than Bagan's 36.
Returning to I-league fold after suffering relegation in their maiden campaign, won 11 matches, scoring 24 goals. They lost three games. Aizawl would not have at all played in the I-League this season as they finished eighth last year but after a few Goan sides pulled out of the country's top-flight league, they got a lifeline to stay afloat.
Since its inception as National Football League more than two decades ago, the blue riband tournament has been a bastion for the elite clubs of Indian football like Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, JCT (now defunct), Salgaocar, Dempo and Bengaluru FC.
Till date, North-East has been the supply line for Indian football — be it through the finishing school of Tata Football Academy or through the various clubs where some of the biggest names of Indian football have played.
From Sikkimese sniper Bhaichung Bhutia to artistic Manipuri medio like Rennedy Singh -- North-East's contribution to Indian football has been immense. Mizoram has been a minefield of talent.
While someone like Pachau Lalampuiya went into oblivion, it is current goal-machine of Indian football Jeje Lalpheklhua, who has captured the imagination of Indian football lovers.
Call it irony, Jeje played for Bagan.
A host of local players, two unheralded Mumbai boys -- Jayesh Rane and Ashutosh Mehta along with Syrian midfielder Mahmoud Al Amna formed an interesting mix of players through their dream season.
But as a team, lifting the silverware is a tremendous boost for the wonderfully receptive and passionate people from the region, who love the beautiful game.
(With PTI inputs)