Gokulam Kerala FC created history by becoming the first team in the I-League era to defend its title with a 2-1 victory over Mohammedan Sporting in a fitting finale on Sunday. Sri Lanka star striker Waseem Razeek is a member of the champion team.
Defensive midfielder Rishad PP put the defending champions ahead with his 49th minute strike to stun the partisan crowd of over 35,000 at the Salt Lake Stadium. However, the home team was soon celebrating as they found the equaliser in the 56th minute through Marcus Joseph’s terrific free kick, which deflected off Azharuddin Mallick into the net.
The home fans’ joy, though, was short-lived, as the Malabarians regained the lead when Emil Benny, running into the final third after receiving a pass from Majcen and with no defenders in sight, found the back of the opponents’ net in the 61st minute.
No club in the I-League era had defended its title. Kolkata side East Bengal had achieved the feat in the time of the National Football League, the predecessor of I-League, by winning the title in 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons.
Chasing their first I-League title, local heavyweights Mohammedan Sporting entered the match in an optimistic mood of getting the better of the in-form side from Kerala, especially with plenty of fans backing them from the stands. However, the determined Malabarians did not let anything come in their way and deservingly won the title for the second straight season.