I-League: East Bengal defeats Minerva Punjab, takes title race to final day

Enrique Esqueda's 75th minute strike earned East Bengal a 1-0 win over Minerva Punjab in the Hero I-League.

East Bengal is a point behind I-League leader Chennai City FC. (FILE IMAGE)   -  AIFF MEDIA

East Bengal rode on Enrique Esqueda's 75th-minute strike to claim a 1-0 win over defending champion Minerva Punjab in its penultimate I-League clash at the Tau Devi Lal Stadium on Sunday.

Chennai City can win the I-League if it gets past Minerva Punjab in its final league match on March 9, while East Bengal will emerge champion if it defeats Gokulam Kerala and Chennai City fails to win.

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The home side, playing for pride, nearly drew first blood when Juan Quero's strike thundered off the woodwork in the 31st minute. East Bengal had its best chance of the opening half eight minutes later when Jaime Santos rose above the defence to head Toni Dovale's cross, but he too was denied by the crossbar. The scoreline remained unchanged at the interval.

ClubMatches playedWinsDrawsLossesGFGAGDPoints
1. Chennai City19124345271840
2. East Bengal19123435191639

 

With Joby Justin suspended, Esqueda spearheaded the East Bengal attack and stepped up to the occasion to bag the match-winner. He received a long ball from midfield, controlled it with ease, and slotted the ball past Arshdeep Singh to put his side ahead with 15 minutes left on the clock.

Here's a video explainer on the title scenario: Chennai City or East Bengal: Who will win the I-League?

Minerva came extremely close to equalising with two fine chances over the next five minutes. Substitute Roland Bilala was played in on goal and had only goalkeeper Rakshit Dagar to beat, but his attempt sailed well past the goal. Khalif Hassan struck a curling freekick three minutes later, but Dagar produced a fine diving save to keep a cleansheet and ensure his side a thrilling victory.

This is the fourth time in the last five seasons that the title race has gone to the final day.

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