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.
That's exactly how the I-League has shaped up, despite being handed the tag of the "second division" of Indian football (the Indian Super League is the primary competition now).
Minerva's attacking trio of Chencho Gyeltshen, Opoku and Girik Khosla which has been consistent throughout the season was once again on top of their game as they ran havoc at the Churchill defence.
But it's advantage Minerva Punjab who need only a win to seal the deal, failing which they will have to depend on favourable results from the other two matches.
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- Chencho nearly scored the match's opener in the eighth minute when a low Girik Khosla cross wasn't dealt with properly. The game-changing moment finally came in the 16th minute when William converted from point blank range after a rebound from Girik's shot. William had another great chance in the injury time of first half but he couldn't control his effort and lost possession.
In the 49th minute, Akash Sangwan's pinpoint corner kick met Chencho header but his effort went just wide off the target. They beat Churchill Brothers 1-0 to finish atop.
Completing a historic first, Minerva Punjab FC lifted their first ever I-League title becoming the only side from northern India to become the champions. Ceesay took a long shot in 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 made a decision to cut inside and in doing so lost 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.
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Churchill nearly scored in the 51st minute when Britto got a chance from just six yards out but his weak effort was saved.
NEROCA needed Minerva to lose and win their own tie against East Bengal, which too were in the same position and that game ended at 1-1. Though they won both legs of the Kolkata derby against East Bengal, a string of draws embarrassed them, especially when they were held at home by AIFF's developmental side Indian Arrows.
Both teams pushed for a victor towards the dying minutes of the match but with Minerva not winning their game, the motivation also seemed lacking.
"I am responsible for East Bengal's performance".
It was the first instance in the history of the league of four teams remaining in contention till the final day. Ryuji Sueoka did it for Salgaocar in 2010-11.
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