Yesterday, the I-League came to an end with a bang. Regardless of what one might think about the standard of Indian football, the I-League did not fail to deliver incredible levels of excitement and that in itself deserves plaudits. On match day 20, the final week of the I-League, a number of key outcomes were yet to be determined.
As many as four clubs were stuck in the fight against relegation, whilst the top two clubs, Bengaluru FC and Mohun Bagan, were paired against one another on the final day. In other words, the excitement was almost equally distributed between the top and the bottom of the table. So let us get to it.
At the bottom, two Goan clubs, Dempo SC and Sporting Club de Goa, were in rather significant trouble, with bottom-placed Kalyani Bharat FC from Pune ready to pounce, if any of the above should happen to slip up. Sandwiched in between the Goans were Shillong Lajong from north-east India, and the team also needed a victory to definitively ensure I-League status for next season. Despite the obvious pressure, Sporting and Shillong made their respective games one-sided affairs, when they both beat their opponents with four-goal margins, Sporting beating Pune by 4-0, whilst Shillong beat East Bengal Club by 5-1, with Trinidad and Tobago striker Cornell Glen contributing a hattrick.
Dempo SC on the other hand, had a rather unfortunate experience in the Goan derby against Salgaocar and were beaten by a final score of 2-0, conceding both goals in the final seconds of the game. At the same time, Bharat’s players were fighting bravely and pushing for the winner in the final minutes of the game; this would have ensured survival. Whilst Bocco could have given Bharat the needed lead in the 79th minute, it was Mumbai that finally struck in the second minute of injury time to ensure Dempo’s survival and seal Bharat’s fate. In the end, the Punkekars’ efforts came too little too late and they will have to live with playing in the lower division next season.
It was on Sunday then, when the decision at the top of the table had to be determined. As destiny would have wanted it, the top two were paired against each other and second-placed Bengaluru FC played host to table-toppers Mohun Bagan A.C. from Kolkata. The game really lived up to the expectation and when John Johnson scored for Bengaluru in the 41st minute, the title was teasingly close for the team from Karnataka. Unfortunately for Bengaluru, they only remained champions for 45 minutes, after Bello Rasaq’s equalising header in the 86th minute crushed the club’s dreams and handed the championship to Mohun Bagan. In the end, it was the league’s best defence that won the title. In addition to this, Bengaluru’s home record with no losses was a major contributor to the success of the team and the title can be deemed well-deserved.
The I-League delivered a great season, full of excitement and joy, and we look forward to the next edition of the competition, as football in India marches on towards progress.