Panchkula, March 8, 2018: Minerva Punjab FC created history by becoming the first team from north India to be crowned the I-League champions following a 1-0 win over Churchill Brothers. William Opoku's goal was enough to seal the title for Minerva Punjab at the Tau Devi Lal Stadium in Panchkula on Thursday (March 8). Minerva's feat is a fantastic one considering it's their second season in top flight football and they climbed the ladder after being placed ninth in the 2017 I-League season. They unseated Aizawl FC as the I-League champions following an amazing season.
Although three other teams were in fray - NEROCA FC, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan - the three points in Panchkula for Minerva sealed them the title as they were not dependent on the day's other results. Both the other matches of the day ended in draws - NEROCA FC drew 1-1 with East Bengal in Kolkata, while Mohun Bagan were held 1-1 by Gokulam Kerala FC in Kozhikode. Churchill Brothers, on the other hand, have been relegated to I-League second division following the result.
Minerva Punjab started the first half really well. The attacking trio of Chencho Gyeltshen, William and Girik Khosla combined really well to put Churchill's defence in jeopardy. Chencho almost scored the match's opener in eighth minute when a low cross by Khosla wasn't dealt properly by Osagie Monday, which handed Chencho a chance. Minutes later, Akash Sangwan had an opportunity to score from the left but his shot went straight to the goalkeeper, who managed to save it well.
The moment of the day arrived 16 minutes after the start of the match. William tapped the rebound of a shot by Khosla from point-blank range to put Minerva Punjab ahead. William had another easy chance in injury time of the first half but he couldn't control his effort.
Congratulations @Minerva_AFC on winning the @ILeagueOfficial Title for 2017-18. You played like Champions. Many congratulations to players and supporting staff of the team. #IndianFootball #ILeague pic.twitter.com/VxnQygDm4A— Praful Patel (@praful_patel) March 8, 2018
Churchill Brothers tried their best to score an equaliser in the second half but were unlucky on many occasions. In the 49th minute, Akash Sangwan's pin-point corner kick met Chencho, whose header went just wide of the target. Churchill Brothers almost scored in the 51st minute when Britto PM got a chance from just six yards out but his weak effort was parried by Minerva Punjab keeper Kiran Kumar Limbu. Dawda Ceesay tried a long-ranger in 54th minute but Kiran was there to save comfortably.
Monday tried his luck in 59th minute but his wayward short was nowhere near the target. The big chance for Churchill came in 61st minute when Ceesay created space inside box to set himself for a shot but ball just went over the crossbar.
Minerva should have doubled their lead in 64th minute when Kassim Aidara played a one-two with Chencho but Chencho's following cross towards Sangwan, who was unmarked, went out for a goal kick.
2 - Only the second time in @ILeagueOfficial history that an Asian Quota player has ended up as the Top Scorer of the Championship winning side. Chencho Gyeltshen for @Minerva_AFC after Ryuji Sueoka did it for Salgaocar in 2010-11. #IndianFootball #ChakdePhatte @fni #MPFCvCB pic.twitter.com/x7i3mKai3R— Aditya Warty (@adityawarty) March 8, 2018
In the 65th minute, Britto missed the opportunity of the match when he went one-on-one with the keeper, but Minerva shot-stopper Kiran came out quickly to save his side.
Minerva Punjab stood the test of time for the rest of the game to hold onto the lead and be crowned the champions.
Champions!!! On a day where the title could've gone to either of the 4 teams, @Minerva_AFC ensured they are the worthy winners of the #HeroILeague! Congrats @THE_RanjitBajaj you guys deserved it! Punjab is finally back on the @IndianFootball's map! #MPFCvCB #IndianFootball @fni pic.twitter.com/Z0tmXsAyvu— Arpan (@Arpan1746) March 8, 2018
Elsewhere, NEROCA FC pumped in a goal through Felix Chidi in the 42nd minute, but Dudu Omagbemi rescued East Bengal in the second half to salvage a point.
In Kozhikode, Aser Pierrick Dipanda Dicka, the top-scorer of the I-League with 12 strikes, gave Mohun Bagan the lead in the 26th minute. Henry Kisekka scored the equaliser at the stroke of half-time for Gokulam Kerala FC.
In the final standings, they top the 10-team table with 35 points in 18 games. NEROCA are second on 32 while Bagan (31 points) pipped East Bengal to the third spot because of their double Derby victories.
Minerva Punjab FC 1 (William Opoku Asiedu 16) bt Churchill Brothers FC Goa 0
East Bengal 1 (Dudu Omagbemi 73) drew with NEROCA FC (Felix Chidi 42)
Gokulam Kerala FC 1 (Henry Kisekka 45+1) drew with Mohun Bagan 1 (Aser Pierrick Dipanda Dicka 26)
Source: AIFF Media