The victorious Gokulam Kerala became the first team to defend the title in the I-League era
Gokulam Kerala FC created history by becoming the first team in the I-League era to defend their title with a 2-1 win over Mohammedan Sporting in a fitting finale on Sunday.
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Rishad PP, who plays as a defensive midfielder, defeated defending champions Gokulam Kerala in the 49th minute to stun a crowd of over 35,000 at the Salt Lake Stadium.
However, the home team was soon celebrating as it equalized in the 56th minute when a brilliant free-kick from Marcus Joseph deflected Azharuddin Malik and went into the net.
The delight of the home fans, however, was short-lived as the Malabarians took the lead again when Emil Benny, running into the final third after receiving a pass from Mejsen and without any defenders, found himself behind the opponents’ net. 61st minute.
No club has defended its title in the I-League era. Kolkata side East Bengal had achieved the feat at the time of the National Football League, the predecessor of the I-League, by winning the title in the 2002–03 and 2003–04 seasons.
Chasing an maiden I-League title, local heavyweight Mohammedan Sporting entered the match optimistically about improving the in-form side from Kerala, especially with a lot of fans supporting them from the stands.
However, the determined Malabarians let nothing stand in their way and deserved to win the title for the second consecutive season.
The defending champions have had a stellar campaign as they entered the final round of play just one win away from winning their second consecutive I-League title.
It was not an easy task to face an undefeated home team in the five matches played in the playoffs, but Gokulam Kerala showed a lot of character and courage to emerge victorious.
Gokulam Kerala FC were playing football on possession basis as a draw was enough for them, while Mohammedan SC also went ahead fast and wanted to attack.
Mohammedan SC came very close in the 25th minute but could not capitalize effectively as the ball was cleared by Gokulam Kerala FC defenders.
Jotanmawia came to the rescue in the 42nd minute but Gokulam’s Jourdine Fletcher could not take advantage of the MDSC custodian’s mistake.
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