Triumphant Gokulam Kerala become first team to defend title in I-League era
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 on Sunday. Rishad PP, who plays as a defensive midfielder, 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. 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 too moved quickly and looked to attack.Mohammedan SC came very close in the 25th minute, but couldn’t capitalise effectively as the ball was cleared by the Gokulam Kerala FC’s defenders. In the 42nd minute, Zothanmawia came too far to defend but Gokulam’s Jourdaine Fletcher could not make use of the blunder by the MDSC custodian.