A DAY IN THE MAKING for months, a football match of historic proportions. The occasion marked the beginning of a new chapter in Mizoram and Indian football, and the contest on the artificial turf of the sunny, windy, dreamy, jam-packed Rajiv Gandhi Stadium did not leave anyone disappointed. Bengaluru FC won the game by a solitary goal scored by Curtis Osano, but it was the Aizawl FC players and fans who won all the hearts this afternoon.
Visitors Bengaluru FC, playing their second away game on the trot, decided to rest Malsawmzuala to bring in Udanta Singh. And Aizawl FC, who hadn't completed the paperwork for Japanese signing Yuta Kinowaki, brought in their captain David Lalrinmuana to start for the first time in the I-League.
The home side began the game by trying to use pace to create some openings but Rino Anto made an early clearance and John Johnson showed his intentions by bringing down Brandon Vanlalremdika and collecting a yellow card about 5 minutes into the game.
Young Aizawl skipper David Lalrinmuana made a couple of moves to prod at the BFC defence. First, he got fouled by Eugeneson Lyngdoh. Then he got a shot on goal that forced Bengaluru keeper Lalthuammawia Ralte to pull a full-stretch airbourne dive to keep it out.
But by now Bengaluru were slowly building things up. C.K. Vineeth and Sunil Chhetri were stirring the pot up front. And young Udanta was spelling a few dangers in the wing. Once he threatened to cut in with a lot of room and defender Lalram Chullova stopped him with a professional foul, that got him booked.
But that foul proved to be costly for Aizawl. Keegan Pereira took the resulting free-kick and it reached Kenyan defender Curtis Osano who sent the ball straight into the net. Bengaluru FC had the lead 26 minutes into the match.
Aizawl tried to hit back with a counter and earned a corner. The kick, delivered straight in, was headed towards the goal by defender Lalruatthara. The BFC keeper managed to deflect it and the ball hit the post; a close shave, but the score remained 0-1.
For the last few minutes of the first half and early in the second, it was obvious that Aizawl FC were trying their very best. Their midfield was mobile and they were able to find each other with reasonable pace but could not do much in the final third.
By now Bengaluru FC had benched Udanta to bring back Malswamzuala, the Mizo youngster who had made his debut last weekend. The substitution drew raucous applause from the over 20,000 fans who had crammed into the stadium.
The match was looking like a repeat of what happened to Aizawl FC last week at Barasat. Their opponents took the lead and then sat back defending it. The home team had the onus of initiative, and Malsawmtluanga tried to further it with a decent shot on goal that the keeper saved easily.
Thoi Singh made an unpleasant tackle on Lalramchullova and picked up a yellow. Coach Ashley Westwood immediately subbed him with Alwyn George to avoid the risk of going a man down.
A free-kick by Eugeneson Lyngdoh almost landed Aizawl in trouble as the keeper fumbled trying to catch it. But thankfully for the home team he was able to grab it before any other player could get to the ball. Then it was Vineeth who got a gem of a ball directly in front of goal inside the box and let fly but the ball went wide, partly due to the strong wind that was blowing through the hilltop stadium that is open in 3 directions.
As the match drew to the close there was a flurry of substitutions. It didn't help the home team much as they seemed to lose their momentum 80 minutes into the game. Bengaluru FC were weathering their attacks well, playing a game of patience to go for full points and preserve energy.
In a last-gasp attempt during the injury time Albert Zohmingmawia made a run into the Bengaluru box and fed Alfred Jaryan but the Liberian striker failed to find the goal. It could have been a sensational finishing move to the game, but it wasn't to be. The match ended with Bengaluru FC registering their second win on the trot, both away from home, and establishing themselves as a title contender for this season.
But the match wasn't too much of a downer for Aizawl FC. Coach Manuel Retamero Fraile will be glad with the way his midfielders led the charge looking for a comeback after going a goal down. They created a couple of chances too. But unfortunately, after playing two matches, no Aizawl FC player has been able to score a goal, and the newly promoted club has now moved to the bottom of the table.
One should not forget, however, that Aizawl FC have faced the two strongest clubs in the league at the very start of their journey in the top division. That they lost shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. But the way they have run the game at times with their pace should give their fans hope; the squad can definitely aim for a mid-table finish.
And looking at the overwhelming response the people of Aizawl have shown to the club and the league, their campaign is not going to lack in excitement for sure.