A NIGHT OF FAIRYTALE FOOTBALL played out at Fatorda tonight as an intense, hard-fought and nerve-wrecking contest saw Sporting Clube de Goa and Aizawl FC fight till the very end to finish the match 2-2, which meant the relegated I-League club Aizawl FC qualified for the final via the own goal rule.
In a stark contrast of the goalless draw in the first leg, both sides came out firing from the very start in this game. A pacy exchange of passes saw the action swing back and forth between both ends. Young Sumit Passi almost gave the home side the lead when Aizawl keeper Poirei made a mess of it, but Chullova intervened on time. Nico Fernandes took aim from distance and it went wide.
David Lalrinmuana fed Alfred Jaryan for a finish from scoring range but the latter missed it by inches. Minutes later Jryan whipped on a high ball that Sporting keeper Arindam Bhattacharya grabbed onto.
But the tide of attacks was turning to the visitors' side and the goal came soon. Joel Sunday beat Fulganco to a through ball and slotted it straight in. Aizawl now had a valuable away goal to their name.
But seconds before half-time, Sporting struck back. It was the young Sumit Passi, brilliantly set up by Loveday, who found the net with a spot-on header. The home team breathed a sigh of relief. They were still in the hunt at the break. The score was 1-1.
Chances came both ways as Ganesh Thakur swung and missed from mid-range soon after the match resumed. This was followed by some chaotic minutes where Amnah and Alfred clashed with each other, Fulganco almost conceded a penalty when he seemed to bring Albert down, and Emmanuel Chigozie almost scored an own goal while trying to clear a Sumit Passi cross.
Catharsis came at the hour mark when Aizawl captain David Lalrinmuana was clearly fouled by Pratesh Shirodkar inside the box. Lalchawnkima stepped up to take the penalty and Aizawl FC coach Jahar Das closed his eyes in nervous anticipation. But to his and the travelling fans' immense relief, the ball went in. Aizawl now had a 1-2 lead.
Minutes later David, who had earned the penalty, flew into Nico Fernandes and picked up a yellow.
Sumeet Passi got tackled hard and Sporting Clube de Goa had a free kick just outside the box. Loveday took it and Poirei managed to slap it out but Glan Martins got hold of it and shot it right in. It was 79 minutes on the clock and Sporting were back in the game. Level at 2-2, they needed one more goal to turn over Aizawl's away goal advantage and win it striaght.
A few nervous moments followed and Aizawl FC players engaged in some immature time-wasting tactics that got them penalised big time. Joel Sunday got a yellow for obstructing play. And in an utter irrational moment, captain David Lalrinmuana palmed the ball away to delay Amnah's free kick and got his second yellow. He got sent off in injury time, with the knowledge that even if his club reached the Federation Cup final he would not be a part of it.
Then Joel Sunday almost sealed the tie but his shot came off the post. Next minute Loveday sent a gem of a pass but Sumeet Passi wasn't quick enough to tap in from 5 yards out. A match-winning chance was missed, and they paid the price moments later. The game ended 2-2, with Aizawl FC qualifying for the final thanks to the away goal rule.
It was a historic moment. Never before had a club managed to reach the final of the Federation Cup right after being relegated from the I-League.
This has turned Saturday's final at Guwahati into a grand affair as throngs of Mizo football fans are expected to turn up at the Indira Gandhi Stadium to support Aizawl FC in the maiden major Cup final in their history, while Mohun Bagan fans are also preparing to travel in high numbers. With the way these two clubs have given hard fight to each other in the I-League, all bets are off as to who will come out on top.
But one thing is for certain. This is a very unique moment in Indian football. This is nothing less than history in motion.