I-LEAGUE: Chennai City FC Beat Minerva Punjab to Clinch Their Maiden Title

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The champions of the I-League were bogged down to the penultimate day of the tournament, with table toppers Chennai City FC (CCFC) leading East Bengal by a single point. Before the final game against Minerva, a draw would have sufficed for Chennai City FC, even though if East Bengal drew or lost against Gokulam FC. This would lead to both the teams tied at 40, but Chennai ahead on goal difference. But fate had other ideas.

A 3rd minute opener by Roland Bilala for Minerva Punjab created mental mayhem for Chennai City FC. The visitors controlled for the opening fifteen minutes and Chennai City FC was bending to the tension and nervousness, created by the opponent’s opening goal. Akbar Nawas, CCFC’s manager was calm as usual, signalling his team to focus and try to retain the possession. Post the quarter hour mark, Chennai City started to control the game, creating chances and attacking the opponent’s half. Yet, the home team couldn’t convert any of their chances and went into the second half trailing 1-0.

After the break, Chennai City FC controlled the game and Minerva’s defense was beginning to crack. Around the hour mark, CCFC’s Manzi won a penalty due to a sloppy handball by Minerva’s Akashdeep Singh which made the referee immediately point to the penalty spot. Manzi scored and so did Gokulam FC against East Bengal a couple of minutes later. With CCFC gaining a draw and East Bengal trailing, it seemed sufficient for clinching the title. A clinical finish by CCFC’s Gaurav Bora from a set- piece in the 70th minute sealed the title for Chennai. At Kozhikode, it became more dramatic with East Bengal netting a second goal and pressing for a win. Yet another set-piece strike by Gaurav Bora in the injury-time sent the fans celebrating in the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium at Coimbatore. The game ended 3-1 at Coimbatore and East Bengal won 2-1 at Kozhikode creating dramatic scenes at both the venues.

This was CCFC’s first maiden I-League title since the tournament’s inception in 2007. Of 12 years of the tournament’s induction, they are also the eight different team to win the title. Credits to Akbar Nawas, a Singaporean who managed to win the I-League title in his managerial debut in CCFC. 

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