I-League 2018: New-look Gokulam takes on Bagan

Gokulam FC meets football giant Mohun Bagan in the team's first match of the new season of the I-League.

Mohun Bagan players during a training session on the eve of their match against Gokulam Kerala FC.   -  K. Ragesh

Seven months after Gokulam Kerala FC held Mohun Bagan to a 1-1 draw, the two teams come face to face, again, at the Corporation Stadium on Saturday.

If that was the last game of the 11 edition of the league for both sides, this one is the first. If Henry Kisekka had put Gokulam on level terms in that match last March, he is playing for Bagan this season.

The big-built Ugandan striker isn't the only key player that has left Gokulam. Playmaker Mahmood Al-Ajmi and striker Kiwi Zhumomi had also contributed handsomely towards the Kerala team's astonishing run in the second half that took it to the Super Cup.

Read: I-League 2018-19: The title race begins

Coach Bino George, however, said the exit of star players like Kisekka would not impact his team. “We have a lot of good players still,” he said.

“If we could draw with Bagan last year, we could beat him this time.”

He said Gokulam would be able to start the game with its best possible eleven, as its biggest new signing, Antonio German, has regained fitness. The home team needs the Granadian striker to fire if it wants to continue from where it left off in the last season.

Also read: Satheevan glad to join Gokulam

Bagan's coach Shankarlal Chakraborty said Gokulam was a formidable rival. “They played really well last year, but I think they have become even stronger,” he said.

“They have some fine home-grown talents in the squad.”

One of them, Muhammed Rashid, the midfielder who is also the vice captain of the team, expressed hope that Gokulam would get good support from their fans. “Last year, it was pretty disappointing that we had to play many of our home matches in front of small crowds, though the team was doing exceedingly well,” he said.

“I wish the crowd would become the 12 man for us, as in the case of Kerala Blasters.”

With the kick-off slated for a more sensible 5 p.m. — instead of last season's 2 p.m. start —Gokulam could afford to wish for bigger turnouts.