In the first pre-quarterfinal of AIFF Super Cup 2018, I-League outfit Aizawl FC knocked out Indian Super League (ISL) champions Chennaiyin 2-2 (5-3 on penalties) at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Saturday.
Andrei Ionescu (22' and 90+1') gave Aizawl FC the lead twice only for Mailson Alves and Dhanachanra Singh to peg them back and take the game to a penalty shoot-out. Aizawl scored all their spot-kicks while Mohammed Rafi blazed over his to give the I-League side a well-deserved win.
The Southerners had Jude Nworuh leading the attack while right-back Keenan Almeida was given a start by gaffer John Gregory. On the other hand, Santosh Kashyap chose four central defenders and two full-backs in his Aizawl side.
Aizawl got off to a bright start and had their first chance as early as in the second minute. Ionescu’s inswinging free-kick was controlled by Saighani in the box and his attempt to whip it into the net went wide.
Aizawl, however, took the lead in the 22nd minute through a deflected effort from Ionescu. Rushing in from the middle and getting the better of his marker, the Romanian released a right-footed shot from distance, which took a slight deflection before flying beyond the reach of Karanjit into the net.
The duo of Leonce Dodoz and Ionescu continued to trouble the Chennaiyin defence as Aizawl kept up their attacking intent. However, in the final minute of the first half, the ISL winners had the chance to equalize when Thapa combined with Rafi on the edge of the box. But the final shot was blocked by goalkeeper Arup.
Moments before the hour mark, Aizawl had the opportunity to double their lead. Receiving a cross from the left, Saighani made a run into the box but an alert Lalrinzuala’s block halted the build-up.
Desperate to find the equalizer, Chennaiyin continued to attack. Gavilan swung in a delivery for Bedashwor inside the box. Though completely unmarked, the youngster's shot went awfully wide from the centre of the box.
In the 89th minute, Chennaiyin eventually bounced back with an equalizing goal through Mailson. Thoi’s header off a deflected Gavilan cross hit the crossbar and the rebound was dispatched into the net by an alert Mailson to take the game to extra time.
Just 30 seconds into extra time, Aizawl responded with a second goal from Ionescu. Latching onto a low cross from the left flank, the 30-year-old sent a curling shot into the net, leaving Karanjit helpless.
However, refusing to give up, Chennaiyin hit back in the second period of extra time through Dhanachandra’s low shot, which sneaked through the Aizawl defence and hit the net to make it 2-2 at the end of 120 minutes of football.
But Aizawl maintained a 100 per cent record in the shootout to seal the win. H Lalmuankima scored the winning strike after Mohammed Rafi blasted his spot-kick into the stands.