I League: Gokulam Kerala, TRAU face off in title decider

I League: After 14 rounds of games, three teams will be battling for the title -- Gokulam Kerala, Churchill Brothers, and TRAU -- on the final day.

Gokulam Kerala is leading the championship playoffs table in the I-League.   -  AIFF MEDIA

Gokulam Kerala will take on Tiddim Road Athletic Union (TRAU) in the final matchday as both sides aim for their maiden I-League title. The game is set for a 5 PM IST kickoff at the Kishore Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata, West Bengal on Saturday.

After 14 rounds of games, three teams will be battling for the title -- Gokulam Kerala, Churchill Brothers, and TRAU. All three sides have 26 points and are only differentiated by their head-to-head results. The equation is simple for Gokulam Kerala. Vincenzo Annese’s side needs to beat TRAU, and it will secure its first-ever I-League title as the Malabrians lead second-placed Churchill Brothers on head-to-head record (2-0 loss, 3-2 win vs Churchill). It could also secure the championship with a draw if Churchill loses its game to RoundGlass Punjab.

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However, Vincenzo Annese would rather prefer his team finish the job by beating TRAU. Speaking at the pre-match press conference, the GKFC head coach said, “This is a final for us, and we need to win this game. We are too excited, we cannot relax. The mood is fine, but we have just one thing on our mind -- we need to win this game.”

“All our hard work, strengths, training sessions, formation -- has led us here. Now, we have to finalise a few things. We have worked very hard to be here. This is a final game, many things can go wrong. We need to limit things we cannot control. We need to focus completely on the game and keep preparing ourselves continuously.”

“We beat TRAU seven games ago. It will be totally different as they will have Helder Lobato back in defense. They have quality in counterattacks. They are organized in defense, and quick in front of goal. Their two excellent midfielders- Phalguni and Kishan Singh who are brilliant passers of the ball and the team can run for the whole 90 minutes,” he adds about his opponents.

Midfielder Mohammed Rashid said, ”It is a dream come true for all players to be fighting for the Hero I-League title. All of us are focused, well-rested and prepared. We are positive that we will be taking the trophy home at the end of tomorrow.”

Like Gokulam, TRAU faces a similar equation if it wants to lift the I-League. If Nandakumar’s boys are able to beat Gokulam, they are likely to lift the trophy even if Churchill is able to beat RoundGlass Punjab in the other game. The Imphal-based club drew both its games with Churchill Brothers, but has a superior overall goal difference which would hand it the title.

However, it will not be an easy task for the Red Pythons as the Malabrians hold the edge over them. Emil Benny’s strike in the first half coupled with Sharif Mohammad’s and Zodingliana Ralte’s second-half strikes helped Gokulam to a 3-1 win over TRAU back when the two sides clashed in match week 8.

Speaking at the pre-match press conference, head coach Nandakumar said, “We have been preparing well and we are in a very good mindset before the game. I have also said earlier that with the talent of the players, we would surprise many in the tournament. Since the start, our aim was to be in the top-six. Being in the title race is a bonus.”

“After many positive results, I have immense confidence in my team. I cannot predict the result, but I can say my team is looking forward to playing this last game -- a title-deciding match for us. I am sure they will give their 100 per cent for the I-League title. Whatever the result, I will be a very happy man.”

“Gokulam are one of the strongest teams. Their strike force is too good and composed in front of the goal. They have a good energetic coach leading a good set of players. They have many players who play in different positions, and it will be difficult to adapt to them. It will be a tough game against strong opposition,” Nandakumar added.

Goalkeeper Amrit Gope has put up some defying performances in goal for TRAU. He said, “We all are motivated after the last game and we have been looking forward to the game against Gokulam Kerala. We know we need to win this game, which will give us the championship. I believe the whole team is motivated and fired up for a win.”

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