Chennai City FC finished their I-League campaign with a win over Minerva Punjab; they ended on 43 points, one point ahead of the other title contenders East Bengal. In an enthralling last day finish, Chennai city faced Minerva Punjab and East Bengal faced Gokulam Kerala FC. CCFC needed a straight win to confirm the title; East Bengal meanwhile needed a win, but also a draw for Chennai city to put their name on the trophy.
Minerva Punjab’s Roland Bilal gave his team an early lead, but Chennai kept pressing thereafter. They played with intent and intensity and kept creating chances. But until they scored the next goal the happier camp would have been East Bengal. It took a foul from Akashdeep Singh, to win a spot kick for Chennai City which Pedro Manzi did not miss as the clock read 56 minutes.
In what was a tense few minutes, a goal from Gaurav Bora, seconds after a goal from Marcus Joseph in Kozhikode, meant that Chennai City had almost sealed the deal. But East Bengal did fight back, with goals from Jamie Santos Colado (79’) and Laldanmawia Ralte (85’). The East Bengal team would have been hoping for a favour from Minerva, but Bora ended their hopes of the title with a goal in the 3rd minute of injury time, to deliver the I-League trophy to Chennai.
As East Bengal bowed out despite a win, the euphoric scenes in Coimbatore were indescribable. It was a perfect end to a perfect season scripted by Chennai. It would be hard to believe that this was the same team that had narrowly escaped relegation last season. It has been quite a turnaround.
We take a look at the journey of this team from the depths to the zenith.
Chennai City began their campaign with several changes; Akbar Nawas took charge of the team, several foreigners were signed- Pedro Manzi, Sandro Rodriguez, Nestor Gordillo Jesus and Roberto Eslava, and the Indian players handpicked from the Chennai Football Association’s Senior Division League. A team that, on paper, looked average at best. But sometimes in football, it’s never about the big names and what followed was a brilliant season.
CCFC started with a 4-1 win over the Indian Arrows, and went on to win four more games out of the five they played; they were beaten by Real Kashmir, on both occasions they played against each other. They were slowly making themselves as one of the favourites. Their Spanish recruits were extremely prolific, to lend a perspective, except the losses against Real Kashmir and the draw against Mohun Bagan and Minerva, Chennai City has scored at least two goals if not more. That’s a total of nine games. And to say their foreign players had a big role to play would be an understatement. They scored 40 out of the 48 goals.
The Tamil Nadu recruits weren’t that far behind, they showed incredible understanding with their teammates. The fighting spirit and hard work the team displayed ensured that they remained on top of the table till the very end. They ended up being the first club from Tamil Nadu that won the I-League and the third first-time winners.
Even though the future remains uncertain, with a new league system that may come up, this team from Chennai will pat themselves for the amazing turn round this season, and a near perfect fairy-tale run. It is always the unexpected things that bring the biggest of joys, and Chennai City FC would wholeheartedly agree along with everyone else who has seen this tale unfold.
Here are a few pictures of Chennai City FC celebrating their maiden title: