KOLKATA — Aizawl FC's William Lalnunfela scored deep into stoppage time to pour cold water on East Bengal's victory ambitions and hold them to a 2-2 draw in an entertaining I-League football encounter here Nov. 28.
Brazilian defender Eduardo Ferreira (66th minute) and Japanese midfielder Yusa Katsumi (72nd) gave the hosts a two-goal cushion only for Lalnunfela (74th) to pull one back in the next minute.
Just as the match headed towards the final whistle, a corner by substitute Lalthathanga Khawlhring was tapped in by Lalnunfela to achieve parity and send the reigning champions into wild celebrations.
Only a handful of spectators turned up at the revamped Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan – which is hosting I-League matches for the first time since 2016 – due to the match being organized in three days' time.
Initially, the state government said that regulations did not permit two matches to be held in 48 hours' time at the same venue. Indian Super League side ATK played FC Pune City Nov. 26 at the same venue.
But after dilly-dallying, permission was given very late, leaving the club with little time to print tickets.
Coming to the game, East Bengal's Trinidadian forward Willis Plaza was guilty of missing two good chances in quick succession, early on in the first half.
First, U-22 defender Mehtab Singh crossed for Plaza inside the box but the latter took a touch too many for visiting defender Kareem Omolaja to clear the ball.
Seven minutes later, Rafique teed up the 30-year-old but Aizawl goalkeeper Avilash Paul dived low to keep the effort from close at bay.
It was one way traffic for the home side as the likes of midfield general Katsumi and the impressive Brandon Vanlalremdika tried to make inroads only to be thwarted in the final third.
The red and gold brigade's best chance came 10 minutes to halftime but Plaza was unlucky here to see his long-ranger from 25 yards cannon off the upright.
Both teams went into the break locked goalless. In the first minute after the restart, Syrian midfielder Mahmoud Al Amna – moving to the right flank with Katsumi coming inside – missed the goal by a whisker.
Avilash then pulled off a pair of superb saves to deny Plaza twice in the space of three minutes.
East Bengal finally broke the deadlock and it was Ferreira who rose highest after Mohammed Rafique flicked the ball in his path from a Katsumi corner.
Minutes later, Rafique's attempt to a big deflection off Katsumi squirmed over the line. Lalnunfela, in the next minute, headed in the ball in front of an empty net and in stoppage time scored again.
East Bengal and Aizawl now have one point from their first outing this season.