Triumphant Gokulam Kerala become first team to defend title in I-League era

Gokulam Kerala FC were playing possession based football as a draw was sufficient for them, while Mohammedan SC, needing a win to lift the title, moved quickly and looked to attack.The only effort on target in the first half came from an Andelo Rudovic free-kick.


PTI | Kolkata | Updated: 15-05-2022 00:51 IST | Created: 14-05-2022 23:16 IST
Triumphant Gokulam Kerala become first team to defend title in I-League era
Kerala thus won the title with a six point advantage and ended Mohammedan's seven-game unbeaten streak in the process. Image Credit: Pixabay
  • Country:
  • India

Gokulam Kerala FC created history by becoming the first team in the I-League era to defend its title with a 2-1 victory over Mohammedan Sporting in a fitting finale here on Sunday.

Rishad PP, who plays as a defensive mid-fielder, put defending champions Gokulam Kerala ahead with his 49th minute strike to stun the partisan crowd of over 35,000 at the Salt Lake Stadium. However, the home team was soon celebrating as it found the equaliser in the 56th minute, when Marcus Joseph's terrific free-kick deflected off Azharuddin Mallick and got into the net. The home fans' joy, though, was short-lived as the Malabarians regained the lead when Emil Benny, running into the final third after receiving a pass from Majcen and with no defenders in sight, found the back of the opponents' net in the 61st minute.

Kerala thus won the title with a six point advantage and ended Mohammedan's seven-game unbeaten streak in the process.

No club in the I-League era has defended its title. Kolkata side East Bengal had achieved the feat in the time of the National Football League, the predecessor of I-League, by winning title in 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons.

Chasing a maiden I-League title, local heavyweights Mohammedan Sporting entered the match optimistic of getting the better of the in-form side from Kerala, especially with plenty of fans backing them from the stands.

However, the determined Malabarians did not let anything come in their way and deservingly won the title for the second straight season.

The defending champions have had a great campaign and entered the final round game just one win away from clinching their second I League title in a row.

It wasn't an easy task taking on the home team that was undefeated in the five matches played in the playoffs, but Gokulam Kerala showed a lot of character and courage to emerge winners. Gokulam Kerala FC were playing possession based football as a draw was sufficient for them, while Mohammedan SC, needing a win to lift the title, moved quickly and looked to attack.

The only effort on target in the first half came from an Andelo Rudovic free-kick. The Bosnian's effort was curling away from Rakshit Dagar but lacked power. As a result, the Gokulam shot-stopper palmed it away to safety. In the 42nd minute, Zothanmawia almost committed a huge blunder as he came charging out almost towards the middle third to stop Jourdain Fletcher on the counter. The Jamaican beat the keeper but failed to keep his long-ranger on target.

All the goals came in the second half, in the span of eleven minutes. Four minutes into the second-half, the deadlock was broken as Rishad came pacing down the middle and made his finish look easy as he slotted it past Zothanmawia to give his side a crucial lead. Seven minutes later, Marcus Joseph's freekick picked up a hefty deflection off Azharuddin Mallick and hit the back of the net.

Mohammedan needed another goal for the title but the third and final goal of the match was netted by the Malabarians. Just four minutes after the equaliser, Luka Majcen played Emil Benny through on goal and Benny replicated the finish for the first goal as Gokulam led and held onto the advantage till the full-time whistle.

Earlier this month, in a similar encounter, Kerala had defeated Bengal on penalties to win the 75th Hero Santosh Trophy in their own backyard. The All India Football Federation (AIFF) congratulated Gokulam Kerala FC on winning the I-League.

''Congratulations! Gokulam Kerala FC have been dominant all throughout in the Hero I-league 2021-22 edition and they fully deserve the crown. Football in Kerala is on the rise, and the Indian Football spectrum will only further benefit from here,'' AIFF President Praful Patel said in a statement.

AIFF general secretary Kushal Das also congratulated the team. ''Defending an I-League crown is extremely tough but they have done it in style -- in fact, they are the first Indian club to achieve it. The Gokulam Kerala club model is there to be replicated by all others to move forward together.''

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

Give Feedback