Mohun Bagan added colours to Holi with vibrant celebrations as they secured the I-League title with a 1-0 win over Aizwal FC.
Coach Kibu Vicuna pumping his fists, goal-scorer Baba Diawara hugging teammate Subha Ghosh, Fran Gonzalez waving the Spanish national flag, Joseba Beitia trying to make a statement with a Basque flag around his neck and Daneil Cyrus shaking his legs to the tune of Dwayne Bravo’s ‘Champion’ song — it was a collage of emotions pasted on the green canvas of the Kalyani Stadium after the final whistle on Tuesday.
Add to that the thousands of fans who joined the players in that happy moment, it was a green and maroon concoction of success.
For Bagan and Kibu, it was mission accomplished. That Bagan, with 39 points, have won the I-League with four matches still left to play only enhances their achievement.
This was Bagan’s second I-League title and overall the fifth national championship triumph. They had won the I-League in 2014-2015 season under coach Sanjay Sen. Their National Football League (NFL) titles came in 1997-1998, 1999-2000 and 2001-2002.
To make it sweeter for their fans, Bagan are 16 points ahead of arch-rivals East Bengal.
Looking back, Bagan had not started the league on a bright note. They had played a goalless draw against Aizawl and then went down 2-4 versus Churchill Brothers. Their first win came against TRAU FC in the third match. But after that they never looked back and are currently unbeaten in 14 matches.
On Tuesday though they had to wait till the 80th minute to get the much-desired goal. It was the combination of Nongdamba Naorem, Beitia and Diawara which brought relief to more than 15,000 fans who thronged the stadium.
Naorem passed to Beitia who squared it to Diawara. The Senegalese striker took a right-footer from top of the box and was bang on target.
It was Diawara’s 10th goal of the league. Diwara, who had goals against Real Madrid and Barcelona during his Sevilla days in the La Liga, has been a key member of the dominating Bagan side.
Gonzalez, who too has 10 goals in the league so far, has also been instrumental in Bagan’s success.
Baba Diawara in Kalyani. Picture by Sanat Kr Sinha
Bagan played attacking football from the very onset on Tuesday, but Aizawl coach Stanly Rozario had packed his defence with more men. Juuko Richard Kassaga and Joseph Adjei stood like a wall in Aizwal’s central defence.
The hosts got a good scoring chance in the dying minutes of the first half but Kamron Tursunov’s shot from a Beitia cross sailed over the crossbar.
In the second half, Gonzalez, playing as central defender in the absence of Fran Morante, began overlapping and his runs unsettled Aizawl.
Spaniard Kibu was happy but promised that his team would not bow to complacency in the remaining matches. “I am very happy with the performance we have put in as a team. Our approach will be the same in the next four matches. We, as professionals, must try to win all the games.”
He also termed it as his biggest success as a coach. “As a coach this is my biggest achievement. I have won titles as assistant coach, but as a head coach it is a first. So this is a special moment for me.”
Man of the Match Diawara too was overwhelmed. “I have not scored so many goals in a league in my life. I would like to dedicate this win to the supporters and my daughters. We are like a family and that is the one of the important reasons for our success,” he said.
Tuesday’s result has now made Sunday’s Bagan-East Bengal Derby inconsequential. By then, Bagan’s new partners ATK would have played the ISL final against Chennaiyin FC, which is scheduled on Saturday.
Before a new beginning in a new league next season, Bagan have ensured a happy ending to their I-League story.
Over to ATK now.