I-League: New entrants Gokulam and Neroca eye first victory

Neroca FC, the Second Division League champion from Manipur, started its campaign with a defeat against Minerva Punjab while Gokulam lost its opening away match against Shillong Lajong and drew against Chennai City FC at home.

Khaled Al-Saleh will play a key role for Gokulam FC.   -  Twitter

Kicking off a game at two in the afternoon under a blazing hot sun might not be a cool proposition, but Gokulam Kerala FC and NEROCA FC promise an interesting tussle in the I-League on Saturday.

It will be the Imphal men who could find the conditions tougher since the temperature is sub-20 back home. Their coach Gift Raikhan, however, hopes their decision to come to the city some four days in advance will help.

“It is going to be tough, but we have been able to acclimatise ourselves somewhat after practising in the afternoon,” he said. “And of course, Gokulam will also have to play in the same conditions.”

His counterpart Bino George sounded worried about the likelihood of a much smaller crowd for the match. The first home match, against Chennai City FC, was watched by nearly 26,000 fans.

“It will be tough for the spectators to sit in the stands which are not roofed,” he said. “And the crowd is our 12th man.”

He has a bigger concern in the form of the injuries to his foreign players, most of whom are not completely fit. “But our physiotherapist is trying his best to field at least some of them,” he said. “And we might be able to play more of our local talents in this match,” he said.

He indicated that T. V. Mohammed Irshad, who hails from the neighbouring town of Tirur, might play. If he does, it will be a homecoming for the talented striker in more ways than one: two years ago, he was the top-scorer, though in Maharashtra colours, a couple of years ago at the National Games, which was played at this same venue — the Corporation Stadium.

Looking ahead to the match, his coach said the team would try to get the full three points. “We have to win our home matches,” said Bino. “But we are not going to take Neroca lightly; they are an experienced side having played in the I-League Second Division.”

Gift suggested he would not mind if Gokulam gifted a point to his team. “They have already opened their account, and we haven’t, so maybe they could help us,” he joked. “We are confident about the game against Gokulam and hope to do better than we did against Minerva Punjab; we had lost despite taking the lead. We have learnt our mistakes from that game, which was our first in the league.”

Gokulam had drawn its last match, against Chennai 1-1, after losing 0-1 away in its I-League debut against Shillong Lajong.

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