Aizawl score one goal, move closer to the other

It began somewhere around the 50th minute. Eleven-thousand Mizos spontaneously chanting. A goal dawn e. A goal dawn e. The goal is coming. The goal is coming. It is what they chant when their team gets the ball, (and the contrary A goal dawn lo, when the opposition does) but this was to sound prophetic.

It was like the good folk of Aizawl and Mizoram knew that this most drippy, miserable, football match, barely even visible for an entire half under the mist, was about to have its brightest finish yet.

It didn't quite end in a title-winning score of 2-0 that they needed, but Aizawl signed off their I-League campaign at home with a 1-0 victory over Mohun Bagan at the Mualpui Stadium. Their final match of the season will fittingly be played in the north-east against Shillong Lajong, the first big frontline club to emerge from the region, and all they need is a draw.

No matter what happens next week, the Mizos are convinced: Aizawl FC are already their champions.

It has been a season where Aizawl have not stopped dreaming, the match against Bagan was filled with dream-like images, mostly due to nature which took over the game like it does much of Mizo life.

The clouds came rolling in from the hills and covered the entire field; at several times in the first half, the white ball was visible only to those at ground level from where one side of the crowd on the hills vanished.

The players and spectators looked like wraiths. Sometimes, the players couldn't see the crowd. Sometimes, the crowd couldn't see the players. On the field, Aizawl sweated and strained but the gods made it all look like their entire season has - ephemeral.

Only in the second half did illusions dissipate with the thinning clouds and the real magic begin. In footballing terms, it was in fact Aizawl's prototype hard tactical ploy used throughout the season. To hold the line as long as they could and then steal the winner right at the end.

At home, against the backdrop, an anxious city spread above the ground across six or so mist covered hillsides and the powdery rain, it appeared mystic. Around that 50th minute, Mamoud Al Amnah, backed by Jayesh Rane, broke through the clouds to make the first of many runs on the left and Aizawl, you cold tell, had clearly sighted the road ahead. A goal dawn e.

Bagan, dripping with big names and heritage, had been worn down to the point that Sony Norde couldn't make his presence felt with the edgy, abrasive Ashutosh Mehta nipping at his ankles, shins and general body space. The hometown boy Jeje Lalpekhlua could be barely seen, while the invisibles in Mizoram's defence combined smoothly with the pros. Aizawl melted into the landscape and enveloped their opposition, fending off attacks and surrounding the visitors, like the rain, and the mist and the noise of the crowd.

Head coach Khalid Jamil, whose fruity Hindi oaths once or twice amazingly rose above the sustained drum-banging, chanting din, turned up at the press conference a man with a brow not so darkened and a persona not quite so locked down.

When asked about the difficulty in visibility in spotting the ball in the first half, he said it was much clearer at field level and turned to a reporter and said, "Do you remember it was like this in practice?" Then he grinned, "See we had trained for this. In the second half, I told the clouds enough now, stay away. And they did." Jamil the Stern cracking jokes? It was that kind of day.

Jamil was then asked when during the season he had believed that his team, like him unregarded, small fry, full of journeymen and unknowns who eke out careers on frugal footballing budgets, could win Indian football's biggest prize.

"Aaj." Today.

For Mizoram football, aaj has stopped many clocks. Yesterday's son, Zohmingliana Ralte aka Zotea had wanted a career in the police but had been disappointed. He had returned home this season to Aizwal after years with Lajong, Pune FC and DSK Shivajians.

There are murmurs about his fallout with Shivajians and how or why he didn't sign up this year. Today surrounded by a devout community, it was like he was always intended to end up in this place at this time, among his people: Waiting for the cross from his team-mate, the Syrian Mahmoud Amnah, as it looped into a clear sky with seven minutes to go. For only him to rise into the air and head it past the goalkeeper. The place where he learnt his football? An academy run by Mohun Bagan.

When the goal came, it was as if after hours of rumbling and raining and interrupting the view of the game, the loudest thunderstorm had arrived; the crowd had predicted, the team had delivered, and even the concrete stands shook a little and the force of eleven-thousand pairs of feet jumping and stomping the ground. Zotea took off on the sidelines asking the fans to push them along some more.

Everything that belonged to the land around the stadium - the people, the buildings, the hills, the trees - had shaken loose its roots in frenetic celebration.

At full time, Mehta broke into crazy faces and fist pumps. He had picked up his fourth yellow card of the season and will miss the match against Lajong. But he had succeeded in holding off Norde, who was seen face down on the far side of the crowd. Jamil rushed towards his players while his assistant knelt down to kiss the ground.

Zotea raced around demented. The support staff took substitutes took selfies. There was red smoke released into the air. As old footballer turned restauranter Remruata Varte says, "Music and football in Mizoram - always rocking." And so they will.

Just as the players were bidding farewell to their beloved fans, the heavens opened up again, raining down on the Bagan parade like Aizawl had done with seven minutes to go. Happy spectators making their way out of the ground found that a minor landslide had taken place on a bend around the stadium.

But unlike on normal days, they weren't going to worry; they had just been witness to a landslide in Indian football and it was Aizawl FC who had caused it.