With the I-League season coming to an end, ESPN staff picks their Team of the Tournament. Not surprisingly, Aizawl FC, who won the league on a dramatic final day, dominate the team with four players featured in the XI. While runners-up Mohun Bagan have three players, only one player from outside the top four makes the cut.
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GK - Albino Gomes - Aizawl FC
Matches: 18 | Clean sheets: 8 | Player of the match: 1
Albino Gomes came into Aizawl FC's I-League campaign on the back of a maiden semi-final run in the Indian Super League (ISL) with Mumbai City FC, though his participation was restricted to just four matches. He has been a permanent fixture in the Aizawl goal, though, and has led a relatively inexperienced backline with admirable maturity. Gomes, 23, has pulled off some massive saves, including one off Darryl Duffy in the opening exchanges of the 1-0 win over Mohun Bagan in the penultimate weekend, and his impact can be gauged from the fact that Aizawl have gone on to win each of the eight games when he has kept a clean sheet.
RB - Pritam Kotal - Mohun Bagan
Matches: 18 | Goals: 1 | Assists: 3
Pritam Kotal has been one of the most talked-about young players in Indian football for the last four or five years, and his performance with Mohun Bagan this season suggests his coming of age, especially at a time when he appears to have cemented the place of right-back in the national team. Kotal has always been a dangerous opponent with his ability to overlap and send in precise crosses, but it has been his defensive work that has stood out this season, throwing in crucial tackles and interceptions when needed. The goal he scored in the 2-2 draw against Mumbai FC was just the proverbial icing on the cake.
CB - Kingsley Eze - Aizawl FC
Matches: 17 | Player of the match: 2
A journeyman of sorts in Indian football, with several stints with clubs in Bengaluru, Kolkata and Assam, Nigerian Kingsley Eze has found his groove at Aizawl this season, where he has worked relentlessly to make them one of the stingiest defences in the league. Aizawl of 2016 were plucky but sometimes guilty of conceding soft goals and letting the advantage slip away in matches they played well in. What Kingsley has been able to do is make them more disciplined, especially when defending set-pieces.
CB - Anas Edathodika - Mohun Bagan
It has been a long, exhausting season for Mohun Bagan, and Anas Edathodika has been a big part of his coach Sanjoy Sen's plans right from the first game. Coming into the I-League on the back of a good run with ISL semi-finalists Delhi Dynamos, Anas began the season without knowing who his regular partner in central defence would be, until Bagan brought FC Pune City's Eduardo Ferreira on board. Anas has been the more consistent and effective of the two, putting his body on the line with some courageous work at the back. His efforts were rewarded with his India debut in March this year, and his first two matches with the national team have both been wins.
LB - Adil Ahmed Khan - Churchill Brothers
Matches: 18 | Goals: 2 | Player of the match: 1
A left of field pick, literally, for a role that Adil Ahmed Khan hasn't reprised often in his career. However, he has been the ultimate utility man for Churchill Brothers this season, featuring in central defence, central midfield as well as a wing-back on a couple of occasions. The former Sporting Clube de Goa and Bharat FC player had a point to prove, having missed the last two ISLs and I-League season through injuries, and he has done it with his versatility and solidity in holding together a talented but inexperienced Churchill Brothers side. The former champions were flirting with relegation for a major part of the season, but with the constant presence of Adil, they were able to secure their place in some style in the end.
RW - Laldanmawia Ralte - Aizawl FC
Matches: 15 | Goals: 3 | Player of the match: 2
More than the quality of play 24-year-old Laldanmawia Ralte has shown this season for Aizawl, it is the impact of his performances that stands out. Two of his three goals were in 1-0 wins over East Bengal at home, and DSK Shivajians away, and the third was the final goal in a key 3-1 away win over Churchill Brothers, all of them coming in the second half of the season. This was the phase when Aizawl had to show that their early wins were not just a flash in the pan, and young Ralte was a principal component of the Aizawl midfield that outran, outsmarted and usually outperformed rival teams with sheer will.
CM - Mahmoud Al amna - Aizawl FC
Matches: 15 | Goals: 2 | Assists - 3 | Player of the match: 2
Mahmoud Al amna was as important as any of the other players for Aizawl FC this season, and his influence in midfield was not just restricted to winning balls and initiating moves. He could effortlessly join in attack, and also registered two goals and three assists in the process. His overall leadership on a young Aizawl side was exceptional, drawing on his experience of having turned out for Sporting Clube de Goa for two years and hence knowing the relative strengths and weaknesses of most opposition teams.
ACM - Wedson Anselme - East Bengal
Matches: 15 | Goals: 8 | Assists: 2 | Player of the match: 2
Haitian Wedson Anselme came into the I-League with an impressive record in Bangladesh football, a country where his compatriot Sony Norde had played before coming to Mohun Bagan, and his early appearances for East Bengal made him look like the real deal. East Bengal led the points table with Anselme in full cry, a hat-trick in a 5-0 away win over Minerva Punjab emphasising his quality. Anselme would hobble out during the 3-1 win away to Bengaluru FC, where he scored one of the goals of the season after wringing the Bengaluru defence inside out, with a groin strain, and it was no coincidence that the six weeks he had to sit derailed East Bengal's title ambitions.
LW - Sunil Chhetri (C) - Bengaluru FC
Played - 16 | Goals - 7 | Assists - 5 | Player of the match: 2
Sunil Chhetri came into the I-League after a dismal run with Mumbai City FC in the ISL -- perhaps still drained out after the kind of effort he put in to take Bengaluru FC to the AFC Cup final in November. The early rounds saw the team winning but their captain struggling to find his usual rhythm, but Chhetri was in peerless touch February onwards, breaking Bhaichung Bhutia's record for most goals in National Football League/I-League history along the way. Bengaluru would be disappointed in their lowest finish in the league, but in Chhetri they had a captain who led by example, scoring goals and setting up younger players alongside him, with his trademark composure.
CF - Aser Dipanda Dicka - Shillong Lajong FC
Matches: 17 | Goals: 11 | Player of the match: 4
Shillong Lajong had been lacking a frontman going into the current season, and so they enlisted the services of former DSK Shivajians striker Aser Dipanda from Cameroon, and how well he repaid their faith. Dipanda was impossible to keep out of the game, chasing down lost causes, utilising every opening on offer and scoring some vital goals as a genuine number nine for his team. Shillong Lajong would end up with their best finish ever in the league, and they lost just two of the nine matches that Dipanda scored in.
CF - Darryl Duffy - Mohun Bagan
Matches: 16 | Goals: 8 | Assists: 1 | Player of the match: 1
As an impact player, Darryl Duffy was excellent for Mohun Bagan this season, though the Scotsman would be disappointed that as the league wore on, his scoring rate dipped significantly. Six of his eight league goals came in clutches of two, and Bagan always won whenever he scored. Mohun Bagan's two Indian strikers Balwant Singh and Jeje Lalpekhlua had a relatively lean season, and bearing that in mind, Duffy's influence was big. The former FC Goa and Salgaocar man has also been known to be injury-prone, and that was another area where he was much better through this season.
Manager - Khalid Jamil - Aizawl FC
Matches: 18 | Wins: 11 | Draws: 4 | Losses: 3
There was no doubt about which coach made the biggest splash in the 2017 I-League. Khalid Jamil himself says he did nothing unusual at Aizawl FC that he hadn't been doing for the past seven seasons at Mumbai FC, but his innovative usage of players made a big difference. Employing a striker like Alfred Jaryan in central midfield, or organising his team into a compact defensive unit that was irresistible on counter-attacks, or leading his club to be the team with the most wins for the season, Jamil ticked all the boxes that a young club could have looked up to from their coach. That his former club got relegated for the first time in their first season since parting ways with him only seemed to be poetic justice.
Substitutes: Debjit Majumder, Ashutosh Mehta, Zohmingliana Ralte, Isaac Vanmalsawma, Katsumi Yusa, Jayesh Rane, Willis Plaza