There was a moment inside the first 10 minutes of the second half in the Indian Super League (ISL) final at the Kanteerava Stadium that summed up the fighting spirit of the two best players on the pitch.
Looking to clean up a cross deep inside his half, Chennaiyin FC's Brazilian centre-back Mailson Alves was trying to keep the ball away from Bengaluru FC captain Sunil Chhetri.
Chhetri, never one to give up, sprinted to get up close to Mailson and almost came out on top in a mutual jersey-pulling contest, one that ended with Chennaiyin's hero on the night going down to the ground theatrically.
The referee gave the free kick in favour of Mailson, whose two unstoppable headers from corners had helped Chennaiyin cancel out Chhetri's early strike in the first half, eventually paving the way for a 3-2 victory. Chhetri, not pleased with the decision, quickly took the ball out of Mailson's underarm, prompting for the game to resume.
There was just no giving up on Saturday evening.
Chennaiyin certainly did not hold back on their attacking plans for the night, but it hurt them early on when left-back Jerry Lalrinzuala was caught out of position. It allowed Udanta Singh to send in a teasing cross in the ninth minute after being fed through by Miku. Chhetri, who had missed scoring from a similar angle in the semi-final home leg against FC Pune City six days ago, took no chances in diving into this one headfirst and giving his team the lead.
Bengaluru coach Albert Roca made some unusual selections on the night, picking Boithang Haokip and giving both him and Juanan a dual responsibility of shoring up the left. Chennai responded by attacking more from the right, and benefited from the lack of defined roles for Bengaluru when defending corners. Lithe of body and iron-willed in his intent, Mailson was a constant threat on the night from dead balls, and closed out two headers in the first half to make BFC's task that much harder.
To make matters worse, playmaker Dimas Delgado picked up a niggle in his foot just before the second of Mailson's goals, and had to be hurriedly replaced by Victor Perez. The blow of losing their best ball player was one BFC could have done without just before changing ends.
In the second half, BFC began brighter, and even had a goal ruled out for a marginal offside call against Udanta. Karanjit Singh in goal was brought into action a few more times as the home side kept pushing for something. Roca eventually brought on Nishu Kumar and sacrificed Erik Paartalu, playing as a centre-half like he did when he had first joined Bengaluru, for Daniel Segovia. It was in that phase, that the final nail in the coffin was hammered in by Raphael Augusto.
Augusto had been the dominant player in the middle of the park, and he showed his technical prowess with a clinical finish in the 67th minute, beating Gurpreet Sandhu from long range.
This result will hurt Bengaluru, especially because it takes the coveted AFC slot away from them for 2019, and it should open a healthy debate for future ISLs regarding the flawed playoffs, without any tangible reward for topping the league stage.
This was the fourth season that the table-toppers lost out on the title. Chennaiyin were the beneficiaries in 2015 when they beat league leaders FC Goa; in 2014 though, they lost in the semi-finals to Kerala Blasters despite finishing top of the table in the regular season.