Minerva Punjab proved once again that they have the best youth set-up in the country after winning the Hero Elite League in style on Friday. They defeated FC Pune City 2-0 in the final at the Don Bosco Ground in Borda, Goa.
Makan Chothe and Thoiba Singh scored the goals for Minerva, who dominated their opposition in the entire match. After winning the Sub-junior League, Junior League, this is the third consecutive success for the Chandigarh-based club in India's age-group leagues.
After a goal-less first half, Minerva broke the deadlock though Chothe, who made a brilliant and chipped the ball over the onrushing goalkeeper. It didn’t take long for Minerva to double their lead.
Thoiba Singh, who is also the youngest ever to play in I-League, scored from a direct free-kick to take the game away from Pune City. Pune tried to come back into the match but failed to even pull one back.
Minerva Punjab owner Ranjit Bajaj was ecstatic after the win. While talking to Sportskeeda, he said, "This was the only title that was missing from our cabinet. We have won all the age group titles, including the I-League.”
Before the match, Minerva Punjab owner Ranjit Bajaj made a motivational speech in the dressing room to get his players excited. He said, “You are from a different level. Today is the time that you prove everybody who is watching this Elite League that we have come here to become the champions, not just as participate.”
So, was that the reason the boys gave their best on the field? Bajaj said, “It’s true that the words pumped them up. But they believed in themselves. I will give all the credit to the boys for putting their hard work on the field.”
Bajaj was effusive in his praise for Chothe, who scored in the quarter-final, semi-final and final. Just a few days ago, Bajaj saved the life of Chothe after the youngster became unconscious after a clash with opposition goalkeeper Jackson Singh.
“This is the best reward he could have given to me. He is very energetic and hard working. I am happy as well as lucky to have a player like him,” said Bajaj.
Bajaj said the goal-scorers will be joining the senior side in Iran to play against Saipa FC in the AFC Champions League qualifier match on February 12.
Minerva topped the Zonal round with 16 points from 6 matches, scoring eight and conceding one goal in the process. In the playoffs, they finished second behind MSP Academy with eight points from four matches. In the final round, they topped the group again with seven points from 3 matches.
In the quarter-finals, they defeated Mohun Bagan on penalties, got past FC Goa in the semi-final. The most striking fact is that they have not lost a single match in the tournament, which is quite astonishing.
“These boys are together for the last three years. We are a team which has developed very good bonding. The hard work and commitment brought us the result,” said the owner.
Bajaj also promised he will invest more on different age level teams and will soon be starting a proper team for U-9 and U-11 age groups.