Aizawl, Mizoram: Former champions Aizawl FC registered a superb first win in the 12th Hero I-League season, that too in front of adoring home fans, overcoming the challenge of Quess East Bengal (QEB) 3-2, thanks to a brilliant 83rd minute strike from their Mapuia, who had been on the pitch for just seven minutes before that.
In an entertaining physical and see-saw encounter that saw the lead swaying both ways, Ivorian Hero of the Match Zikahi Dodoz put the hosts ahead in the 25th minute, before Jobby Justin equalised in the 63rd minute for the visitors. Spanish defender Borja Gomez put QEB ahead in the 70th minute, but his effort was cancelled out three minutes later by Joe Zoherliana. Finally, Mapuia sealed it with a relishing strike off an even more delicious Dodoz assist to seal the fate of the match.
In the end, it turned out to be a combination of Dodoz’ efforts and a couple of Gift Raikhan’s substitutions which secured the win for Aizawl while for East Bengal, their fate seemed tied to three Lalram Chulova set-pieces, two of which brought them goals while one was disallowed.
Both coaches made a few changes to the starting eleven. Raikhan brought back Gurpreet in goal and played Joe Zoherliana in defence and David in midfield, in place of Govin Singh and Duata respectively.
QEB had Ubaid in goal in place of Rakshit Dagar, which Spanish coach Alejandro Menendez might rue in hindsight and got in Chullova and Brandon in place of Samad Ali Mallick and Yami Longwah.
QEB had the better of the exchanges in the first quarter of an hour when Jobby Justin missed a couple of gilt-edged opportunities before Dodoz fired one straight to keeper Ubaid for Aizawl’s first chance in the 24th minute.
A minute later, a cross from the right brushed off Dodoz’ head and the loose ball was picked up by Kromah inside the box on the left. He laid it off to Rinfella whose powerful strike rebounded off Ubaid and fell in the path of Dodoz who placed it in the back of the net.
The goal spurred QEB up further and Mexican frontman Enrique Esqueda, in particular, missed a few close chances.
Referee Rosario Fernandes had to deal with a very physical first half as well and as many as four players got into his book as Aizawl took the lead into the lemon break.
After the initial sparring in the first fifteen minutes of the second half, the game sprung into life and a frantic 20 minutes followed. From an another Chullova free-kick in the 63rd minute, Jobby Justin swooped in to connect with a powerful header which beat Gurpreet although he did manage to get a touch.
QEB then took the lead, this time from a Chullova corner in the 70th minute. The ball fell to Esqueda whose effort got into a melee. Kasim Aidara took the first shot at goal from it but the goal-bound ball deflected off Aizawl defenders. Centre back Borja was first to react and pounced forcefully for his first goal for the club.
The excitement continued as Aizawl was back in the game three minutes later when Joe Zoherliana reacted fastest from yet another corner and yet another melee for the game’s second equalizer. Substitute David Lalbiakzara it was with the corner this time but the QEB keeper was guilty of not collecting cleanly yet again after a similar fumble earlier which could have also led to danger.
Aizawl then turned the encounter into their favour with a sumptuous strike from Mapuia. Dodoz collected the ball on the left flank and delivered a wonderful cross bisecting the Bagan defence and the keeper. Mapuia met it, controlled it and unleashed a sizzling angled right footer which bulged the back of the net. It was Mapuia’s second strike this I-League season and both have now come from either foot.
The result moves Aizawl up to the eighth spot in the points tally from bottom and QEB stay stranded at the fourth position having bagged six points from two wins in four games.