CELEBRATIONS BEGIN IN PANCHKULA... and we’ll take leave with some reactions hailing another famous triumph in Indian football. Stay tuned for more from our reporter Arka Bhattacharya who is soaking in the atmosphere and will put them in words for you.
05:00 PM: IT’S ALL OVER - MINERVA PUNJAB ARE I-LEAGUE CHAMPIONS!
NEROCA came agonisingly close to taking the lead. Kallon’s header is deflected by East Bengal defender.
But the story is in Panchkula – MAD SCENES! What a story for MPFC.
04:58 pm: ALL OVER FOR BAGAN, MPFC, Neroca and East Bengal are going at it...
04:55 pm: Minerva 1-0 Churchill, East Bengal 1-1 Neroca FC, Gokulam Kerala 1-1 Mohun Bagan
TENSE MOMENTS IN THE MINERVA BENCH.... referee indicates FIVE MINUTES of added time, but as long as they don’t concede multiple goals, MPFC should still be fine.
Final whistle imminent in other games....
04:50 pm: Minerva 1-0 Churchill, East Bengal 1-1 Neroca FC, Gokulam Kerala 1-1 Mohun Bagan
THE END IS NEAR... We are winding down across the three games and it looks like it might end up being a straight forward equation after all with MPFC holding on to their early lead. They almost make it 2-0 in the 87th minute! But a scramble in the box results in just a goal kick as CB’s GK Cardozo does well.
04:45 pm: Minerva 1-0 Churchill, East Bengal 1-1 Neroca FC, Gokulam Kerala 1-1 Mohun Bagan
By all accounts, the game in Panchkula will be the last to end with a delay in kickoff followed by some injury delays with the game winding down. EB, MB and NFC could well have a nervous few minutes of wait, hoping for a CB miracle.
04:35 pm: Minerva 1-0 Churchill, KEB 1-1 Neroca FC, Gokulam 1-1 Bagan
We have the first goal across games in the second half - and it’s East Bengal. Would be oddly fitting if they end the season with a home draw. East Bengal have equalised through Dudu and will push for the winner.
In Panchkula, Churchill’s charge in the second half is a commendable one. Remember this is a team fighting relegation. Minerva looking to waste as much time here as possible, with only the odd breakaway for Chencho. Churchill are repeatedly knocking the door here. LATE DRAMA ON THE CARDS?
04:25 pm: Minerva 1-0 Churchill, KEB 0-1 Neroca FC, Gokulam 1-1 Bagan
MPFC are living dangerously in the second half, CB are creating chance after chance! One shot goes over the bar, another saved from close range. Britto again! One on one with the keeper. Minerva had their hearts in their mouths there but Kiran Limbu saves his team once again.
4;15 pm: Minerva 1-0 Churchill, East Bengal 0-1 Neroca FC, Gokulam 1-1 Bagan
Oho! CHANCE FOR CHURCHILL! Should they score, the cat will truly be walking amongst the pigeons. So close from Britto PM! His point-blank shot is saved by Minerva keeper Kiran Limbu. Minerva survive by the skin of their teeth here.
In the other games....
SECOND HALF: Minerva 1-0 Churchill, East Bengal 0-1 Neroca FC, Gokulam 1-1 Bagan
Alright then! 45 minutes away and all four teams still very much in the fray for the title. A goal in Panchkula will change all that though... some substitution updates.
Minerva - top with 35 points
NEROCA - second, 34
Mohun Bagan - third, 31
East Bengal - fourth, 30
HALF TIME: Minerva 1-0 Churchill, East Bengal 0-1 Neroca FC, Gokulam 1-1 Bagan
And MPFC are winning the league as it stands... MPFC are creating chance after chance and it’s William who is at the heart of it all. A fair few chances as the half drew to a close. East Bengal had 15 shots at goal in the first half but only six were on target. But NEROCA had scored against the run of play. Bagan meanwhile have let a lead slip against giant-killers GKFC.
03:45 pm: Minerva 1-0 Churchill, East Bengal 0-1 Neroca FC, Gokulam 1-1 Bagan
Nearing half-time across the three games and guess what - EAST BENGAL ARE TRAILING! Oh dear, oh dear. A series of chances for East Bengal fluffed and now the Manipuri club have made them pay. And in Kozhikode, the giant-killers are at it again! GKFC EQUALISE AGAINST BAGAN.
03:40 pm: Minerva 1-0 Churchill, East Bengal 0-0 Neroca FC, Gokulam 0-1 Bagan
A few long range shots at Panchkula from both sides but nothing concrete...
Meanwhile in KOLKATA: What a miss from East Bengal. Dudu misses after a free kick from Yusa! And Al Amna misses soon after. East Bengal do it again and coach Khalid Jamil can’t believe his eyes. Jobby Justin had the entire goal to aim at with the goalkeeper out of position and he hits it over the cross bar.
03:35 pm: Minerva 1-0 Churchill, East Bengal 0-0 Neroca FC, Gokulam 0-1 Bagan
A huge fight has broken out in the middle between Guy Eric Dano of Minerva and Churchill’s Onyeama Francis and the referee does well to not let it boil over. Not sure what exactly happened there.
Mohun Bagan are staying in the lead and staying in the race.
03:26 pm: Minerva 1-0 Churchill, East Bengal 0-0 Neroca FC, Gokulam 0-1 Bagan
Mohun Bagan have scored! They are certainly keeping their hopes alive... here’s how that went down:
Churchill have come forward a few times since conceding the goal, looking for the equaliser. More on MPFC’s goal by our correspondent Arka:
Chencho takes a shot from the left. Costa saves it but it falls to Girik Mahesh Khosla whose shot is blocked.
The rebound fell to William Opoku who had the easy job of turning it into an empty net.
03:20 pm - Minerva 1-0 Churchill, East Bengal 0-0 Neroca FC, Gokulam 0-0 Bagan:
Minerva clearly don’t want to leave anything to chance, and they have the early lead! MPFC have been trying to force the issue in Panchkula, forcing the CB goalkeeper into a smart save in the 13th min. Akash Sangwan with a left-footed shot which Ricardo Costa saves. That was close for Minerva there as they almost took the lead. And minutes later, Asiedu provides a poacher’s finish as MPFC TAKE THE LEAD in the 15th minute!
No goals elsewhere yet..
03:10 pm - Minerva 0-0 Churchill, East Bengal 0-0 Neroca FC, Gokulam 0-0 Bagan:
No goals across the 3 games yet and as it stands (way too early of course) Minerva are ahead in the title race. The league-leaders have strarted on the front foot in Chandigarh.
03:00 pm: A slight delay in Chandigarh in setting up the goal but we are underway across three cities to decide the I-League champion.
Starting XIs across the matches:
02:58 pm: Our reporter is at the Tau Devi Lal stadium to see if Minerva can become the first North Indian team to lift the I-League title.
02:55 pm: The I-League title race is down to the most dramatic final day in the competition’s history with as many as four contenders, across three matches, seeking a coronation to remember.
The title looked wrapped up a few days ago but leaders Minerva Punjab’s shocking defeat to Chennai City once again left the race for the silverware tantalisingly poised.
On the eve of the last round matches, Minerva Punjab FC lead the chasing pack with 33 points, even as East Bengal slipped to fourth (30 points) behind Neroca FC (31) and Mohun Bagan (30).
02:50 pm: There can’t be a better finale for a league than four out of 10 teams in contention for the crown on the final match day.
The I-League title race this season has gone down to the wire with traditional powerhouses East Bengal and Mohun Bagan looking to leapfrog table toppers Minerva FC and second placed NEROCA FC.
In the final round, Minerva faces Churchill Brothers, East Bengal host NEROCA while Bagan play away at Gokulam Kerala FC.
As things stand now, just two points separate the four teams and it would be interesting to see who manages to scrape through the final round to lay their hands on the crown, which Aizawl won last year.
Here are the permutations and combinations which will have a bearing on the final standings.