Aizawl FC became the first northeast side to win the I-League on Sunday, a year after finishing at the bottom of the table. The Mizoram outfit finished with 37 points, one point ahead of Kolkata powerhouse Mohan Bagan, to earn the honour of competing in the prestigious AFC Cup.
The little-known club scripted a Leicester City-like moment after being relegated last season, only to be called back after a few Goan clubs pulled out of the competition. No one gave the club a chance of winning, given their tight budget and a not-so-impressive track record.
This feat is comparable to City's achievement in the English Premier League last season after having been on the verge of relegation the previous year. Coach Khalid Jamil mentored Aizawl FC to success after being sacked by Mumbai FC last season due to the club's poor performance.
As Indian champions, Aizawl will feature in the AFC Cup which is the continent's second-tier club competition and will compete against teams from other developing footballing nations.
Aizawl's final match of the season was against Shillong's Lajong that started with a controversy. The Aizawl side played away and under protest after discovering that the title-decider would be officiated by referees from Bengal. Aizawl did so because Mohan Bagan was simultaneously playing Chennai FC and biased decisions from the Bengal referees could have cost them the title.
Lajong went ahead in the ninth minute through Aser Dipanda
Aizawl displayed nerves of steel to hold onto the draw to stay on top by the smallest of margins as Mohan Bagan beat Chennai City FC 2-1.