Kalyani/UNI: India's grand old football club Mohun Bagan soared to their second Hero I-League crown in five seasons with four games still left to play, riding on Spaniard midfielder Joseba Beitia’s ninth assist and former La Liga striker Papa Babacar Diawara’s 10th strike from nine consecutive games.
Meanwhile, in the process, they match Dempo Sporting Club’s record of wrapping up the league with maximum games left to play. Dempo SC achieved the feat when they sealed the Hero I-League in 2009-10 with four matches yet to play.
Aizawl were certainly not overawed by either the occasion nor the 17,222 partisan home crowd which had packed the stands, dishing out a thoroughly professional performance in the first half. Joe Zoeherliana and Rochharzela were a constant threat on the right and Paul Ramfangzuawa was also getting himself into a lot of space in the middle of the park.
Rochharzela, in fact, had the first crack at goal as early as the 12th minute and Sankar had to go down full stretch to bring about his first save of the game. He had a second crack in the 34th, this time from closer, but was wide of the target.
The visitors defence was also much more organised and Ghanaian Joseph Adjei’s policeman marking of prolific Senegalese striker Papa Babacar Diawara was paying initial dividends.
Bagan, on the other hand, though having more than Aizawl’s possession in the first quarter of an hour, were finding it difficult to get a clear sight at goal. Diawara almost dribbled through once from a Tursunov-Naorem move and Suhair had the first shot on target from distance for the hosts at the half-hour mark.
Bagan ended the half on a strong note with a couple of free-kicks from Beitia found the talented Tajik attacker Tursunov but to no avail.
The deadlock remained at the end of the first 45 minutes and to Aizawl’s credit, they did not put a step back even in the second half. Jaryan hit a free-kick early but it went straight to Sankar and that was probably the last strong approach Aizawl had in the game.
Bagan began to step up with twenty minutes left on the clock. Naorem found Diawara with a fine ball inside the goalkeeper’s area but Zothanmawia did well to snatch it from his head and then Ashutosh Mehta struck one sweetly but got the accuracy a bit off.
Beitia then initiated a move that involved successively Naorem, Tursunov and finally Mehta, but the resulting cross which met with a Diawara header went off target.
The title-winning goal finally came in the 80th minute to send the Kalyani Stadium into a frenzy. It was Beitia again who accelerated and having reached closer to the box, squared to Diawara who was following Beitia from the right. Kasagga could have done better to stop the ball from arriving at the eventual Hero of the Match, but once it was with him and with space in front of him, it was always going to be dangerous.
Diawara dished out a lesson in clinical finishing to aspiring strikers in the country, bringing out his best under pressure while unleashing a fierce grounder which not only beat the keeper but left him as a spectator as it lodged itself into the back of the Aizawl net.
As Bagan saw off the final minutes, the stands erupted in colourful celebrations with emotions running high. Mohun Bagan, with an unassailable 39-point tally, will face-off with cross-city rivals Quess East Bengal in the famous ‘Kolkata Derby’ on March 15, whereas Aizawl will travel to Ludhiana to face third-placed Punjab on the same day.