Churchill Brothers on Tuesday won their second I-League football title with a match to spare as they played out a 1-1 draw with Kolkatas Mohun Bagan.
With 52 points from 25 games,Churchill ensured that the I-League trophy will stay in Goa for the sixth consecutive season. It again underlined that the power equation in Indian football has decisively shifted to Goa from Kolkata. Ever since the national league was rebranded as I-League in 2007,no clubs from any other state have lifted the trophy. Dempo have won I-League thrice,Churchill two times with Salgaocar claiming the title once.
The win also marked a unique distinction for veteran coach and administrator Subhash Bhowmick,who has now won the national league with two different sides first as a coach with East Bengal in back in 2002-03,03-04 when I-League was known as the National Football League,and now as technical director of Churchill. The controversial coach has gone through a rough time in his career during the latter part of the last decade,and the latest win will surely give him a second wind.
I will always believe till my death bed that my players are my God. They are my strength,they are my weakness. I need to instill in them a belief,the belief that I am a part of you. If we sink,we sink together; if we win,we win together. My players are more important than anyone else, Bhowmick said after the match.
Churchill,who needed a draw to overcome Pune FCs challenge,got a rude shock when C S Sabeeth of Bagan scored from a solo effort in the 26th minute. But India captain Sunil Chhetri restored parity in the second half to ensure that the supporters who gathered at the Tilak Maidan were able to start celebrations.
Bagan,who made Churchill Brothers work hard had to earn a point,now have 26 points from 25 matches and have done well to escape relegation after being docked all points due to a crowd trouble during a December derby with East Bengal.
Churchill Brothers,who last won in 2008-09,pressed hard for an early goal but were frustrated by the visitors who also looked enterprising in their attack.
Bagan,looking more composed as their was no pressure on them to win,succeeded in taking the lead in the 26th minute when Sabeeth,after getting the ball on the top of the box,ran solo and cut past defender Satish Singh before uncorking a left-footer past keeper Sandip Nandy.
Churchill,who remained undefeated in their last five outings,were expected to be more creative in the midfield with the return of Beto. But that was not to be as their passing was off the mark.
Churchill showed lot of urgency in the second half and finally found the equaliser when Chhetri rose above his marker to head the ball into the net off a cross from Bineesh Balan in the 72nd minute.
Focus on Asia
Meanwhile,as soon as his team wrapped up the title,Churchill coach Mariano Dias shifted his focus to the AFC Cup,Asian footballs equivalent of Champions League. Given a chance,if any team puts confidence in me,I want to win the AFC Cup for an Indian club. People may laugh but I tell you,its possible.
Churchill Alemao,the patron of the club,was thrilled at his team lifting the second title. They (Mohun Bagan) came hard at us but we eventually won the title. Asked about retaining the players,the club boss sounded confident of keeping players such as Chettri and Henry.