Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu: Assam-born 20-year old Delhi lad, Gaurav Bora did the star turn with two second-half goals, as Chennai City FC won their maiden Hero I-League title, beating defending champions Minerva Punjab FC 3-1 in their final game of the 12th Hero I-League at the Nehru stadium in Coimbatore.
Chennai finished with 43 points, one ahead of Quess East Bengal (QEB), who despite winning their final game in Kozhikode against Gokulam Kerala, saw their dreams of the first-ever title triumph fade away in Coimbatore.
Pedro Manzi, their premiere Spanish striker fittingly scored a goal to join Churchill Brother’s Willis Plaza as the joint top scorer of the league with 21 goals apiece, but the day undoubtedly belonged to the young Gaurav Bora, a versatile defender cum midfielder who capped off a brilliant season with a double-strike when it mattered most for his team.
It did not begin perfectly as Minerva took an early lead in the 3rd minute of the game through Ukranian recruit Roland Bilala. It was off a Juan Querro free-kick from the right flank, that he rose to beat his marker and lodge his header into the back of the net.
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.
For Minerva, most of their openings were being created by Querro from the left flank. The diminutive Spaniard finding goal-scorer Roland again in the 40th minute with a wonderful cross, but the Ukranian could not make most of a free-header this time.
Upon commencement of the second half, Chennai continued to get better control of the game. A Sydney Vanspaul effort in the 53rd minute from distance missed the target, but not by much.
Two minutes later, Chennai got the opening they were looking for on a platter. Akashdeep Singh in an effort to clear inadvertently handled the ball inside the box and referee Santhosh Bhaskaran had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
Manzi displayed outrageous confidence in pointing the goalkeeper to the spot where he would be placing the ball and did exactly what to bring Chennai firmly back into title reckoning.
The young Gaurav Bora then made a name for a lifetime with two stunning strikes to put the issue beyond anyone’s doubt. Both goals came off corners taken by Sandro from the right flank.
The first in the 69th minute was earned by Sandro himself who then delivered perfectly and Bora coming in on the far post unmarked connected with a crisp volley to put Chennai ahead.
Then if QEB had any hopes remaining of a dying minute Minerva equaliser, Bora put paid them in the 3rd minute of injury time when off another Sandro corner, he came in and rose to head even more crisply to bulge the back of the Minerva net.
It was a fitting attacking and professional end to a brilliant campaign ably steered by Singaporean coach Akbar Nawas and as Bhaskaran blew for full-time there scenes of emotions and joy all around the stadium.