Bengaluru (Karnataka) [India], October 23 (ANI): Rajasthan United FC (RUFC) was on Saturday crowned champions of the I-League qualifiers 2021 as they held on to a hard-fought 0-0 draw against Kenkre FC.
The side from Rajasthan needed a solitary point from the final match to secure the elusive I-League berth owing to their two-point lead over Kenkre FC going into the final matchday.
This result has made Rajasthan United the first-ever team from their state to play in the I-League.
The match began with a slow tempo as both teams applied a measured approach to grow into the game gradually.
As neither team was too expansive in pursuit of a goal, chances were few and far between in the first half. As the match progressed, it seemed like both sides were waiting patiently for the other to blink first and make a mistake.
Rajasthan United were nearly punished for their first lapse in concentration in the 28th minute when Gurmukh Singh stepped out of the last line of defence to intercept a pass from Kenkre FC captain Al Azhar.
Two minutes later, in the 30th minute, RUFC winger Aman Thapa came into life near the opposition box but was promptly brought down near the edge of the box.
Going into half time, there was nothing to separate the two sides. Both sides were implementing their tactics perfectly, with Kenkre FC playing their possession-based game and Rajasthan United trying to score a goal on the counter.
Kenkre FC came into the second half with renewed vigour as it was a case of now or never for the team from Mumbai, who had to take the game to their opponents and force a win in their favour to qualify for the I-League. It was indeed the side from Maharashtra who had the better chances to go ahead in the second half.
In the 63rd minute, Rajasthan United came close to scoring through winger Aman Thapa, who managed to get behind last man Zacharie Mbenda. Thapa got the better of Mbenda for pace but could not wriggle his way past the defender as Mbenda outmuscled his man to recover.
Rajasthan United made claims for a penalty to be awarded for the challenge, but the appeals were promptly waved away by the referee.
With the deadlock unbroken after the 80th-minute mark, Kenkre FC threw the kitchen sink at their opponents. They had the best chance of the game through influential substitute Lester Fernandez in the 84th minute, as he played a quick one-two with striker Yash Mhatre to be released through on goal with a smart lobbed pass.
Kenkre FC had another golden opportunity in the 90th minute that could have changed the outcome of these I-League qualifiers in the dying moments of the competition. Yash Mhatre left his marker Floyd John in his wake with a quick turn, but with only the goalkeeper to beat, the striker could not keep his left-footed shot on target from close range.
As this chance went begging, the game agonisingly slipped through Kenkre FC's hands as Rajasthan United withstood the attacking onslaught to hold on to the precious draw that sends them through to the I-League. (ANI)