I-League: Gokulam Kerala register historic triumph

Gokulam Kerala FC
Gokulam Kerala players and support staff celebrate with the trophy. Photo: By Special Arrangement

Kolkata: Gokulam Kerala FC clinched their maiden I-League title in spectacular fashion as they came back from a goal down to beat TRAU 4-1 in the final match of the season here on Saturday.

Bidyashagar Singh's 24th minute strike did little to stop the Gokulam juggernaut as goals by Sharif Mohamed (70th), Emil Benny (74th), Dennis Antwi (77th) and Mohammad Rashid (90+8) handed them the trophy.

With Churchill Brothers winning 3-2 against Punjab FC in the day's other match held simultaneously at another venue here, Gokulam shared points (29) with the Goan side but were crowned champions on head-to-head record.

In the two matches the two sides had played in the season, Churchill had won 3-2 once while Gokulam had emerged 3-0 victorious in the other.

 Sharif Mohammad'
Sharif Mohammad drew level for Gokulam Kerala with a superb free-kick. Photo: Twitter/I-League

Gokulam thus qualified for the group stage of the AFC Cup next season, Asia's second tier club competition, as I-League champions. They also became the first side from Kerala to win the I-League title.

The winning team's coach Vincenzo Alberto Annese could not hide his joy at his players' achievement.

"This is the best day of my life. I feel so happy and I feel amazing to be crowned a champion. I am immensely proud of my team and we deserved to be champions. We outscored all teams and we have played like champions in this season," Annese said.

"This means everything to me. This is my first season in India and it has already been a very special one. We have a very special team and nobody plays the style of football that we play," he added.

Bidyshagar, a revelation in the I-League much like his team TRAU, opened the scoring when he produced a brilliant finish from outside the box in the 23rd minute.

Bidyashagar Singh
Bidyashagar Singh drew first blood for TRAU. Photo: Twitter/I-League


Just after resumption, Chanso Horam had a golden opportunity to hand TRAU their second goal of the match but his chip shot went inches over the bar, following a fine counter-attacking move.

Gokulam forward Dennis Antwi failed to find the net in the 62nd minute as his header went agonisingly wide off an Emil Benny cross from the right flank.

 Sharif Mohammad's free-kick in the 70th minute from the edge of the box grabbed the equaliser for Gokulam. The comeback was well on course in the 74th minute when Emil Benny tussled past his marker and slotted home through Amrit Gope's legs to hand Gokulam the lead.

Three minutes later, Antwi scored to extend the lead.

After Vincy Barreto was sent off in the added time, Muhammed Rashid scored the fourth goal for Gokulam, adding more gloss to complete the remarkable comeback.

Gokulam pocketed Rs 1 crore as prize money while the second, third and fourth-placed teams in the table received Rs 60 lakh, Rs 40 lakh and Rs 25 lakh respectively.

Bidyashagar Singh (TRAU) won the highest goal scorer award (Rs 2.5 lakh) along with Hero of the League Award (Rs 5 lakh). The Best goalkeeper award (Rs 2.5 lakh) went to Kiran Limbu of Punjab FC. Syed Abdul Rahim Award for best coach went to Nandakumar Singh of TRAU. 

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