Chennai City crowned I-League champions 

Last Updated 09 March 2019, 16:36 IST

Chennai City were on Saturday crowned champions of the 12th I-League, which refused to be dwarfed by the uncertainty around its future, twisting this way and that till the last moments.

Chennai City came from behind to beat Minerva Punjab 3-1 on the final day of the league. Chasing the leaders, travellers East Bengal finished second after beating Gokulam Kerala FC 2-1 in Kozhikode.

At the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here, Roland Bilala had handed Minerva Punjab a shock lead in the third minute. But Pedro Manzi, one part of a deadly triumvirate that served Chennai City with distinction through their third season, converted from the spot to draw parity.

Assam's 20-year-old Gaurav Bora's brace (69th and 90+3rd) then sealed the title for the Akbar Nawas-coached side.

Chennai City ended on top of the league table with 43 points, one more than East Bengal who finished second in yet another photo finish. East Bengal's bid to end their 15-year-old wait for the top-flight title continued even after they won their game against Gokulam Kerala.

Manzi finished as the joint top-scorer of the league alongside Willis Plaza of Churchill Brothers with 21 goals.

In the last game, the Delhi-based Bora did the star turn with two second-half goals.

Minerva took an early lead in the third minute through Ukranian recruit Roland Bilala, who rose high to beat his marker and lodge his header into the back of the net off a Juan Querro's free-kick from the right flank.

Chennai kept pressing thereafter and with Nestor Gordillo missing through suspension, it was left to his fellow Spaniard Sandro Rodriguez to fuel all attacks. He along with Slovakian Jozef Kaplan and Romario Jesuraj, both of whom were constantly switching flanks, were constantly trying to create for Manzi.

Upon resumption, Chennai upped their tempo and almost levelled the scores when Sydney Vanspaul's effort from distance missed the target in the 53rd minute.

Two minutes later, Chennai got the opening they were looking for. Akashdeep Singh in an attempt to clear, inadvertently handled the ball inside the box and referee Santhosh Bhaskaran had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.

Manzi stepped up and placed the ball past the Minerva goalkeeper to restore the parity.

Bora then came up with two stunning strikes to put the issue beyond anyone's doubt. In the 69th minute, Sandro delivered perfectly from a corner and Bora coming in on the far post unmarked connected with a crisp volley to put Chennai ahead.

His second arrived in a similar fashion when he scored from another corner by Sandro, this time, via his head.

(Published 09 March 2019, 16:34 IST)

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