In what can be described as a nail-biting final, Gokulam Kerala FC were crowned champions of the 4th Indian Women’s League (IWL) after a dramatic 3-2 victory over Kangchup Road Young Physical and Sports Association (KRYPHSA) FC at the Bangalore Football Stadium on Friday, February 14.
Gokulam Kerala FC raced to a 2-0 lead through early goals from Prameshwori Devi and Kamala Devi but Dangmei Grace pulled one back for KRYPHSA to reduce the deficit before half-time. Ratanbala Devi levelled the scores in the second-half to set her team on course for what would have been a phenomenal comeback. However, it was Sabitra Bhandari who rewrote the headlines by striking a late winner for Gokulam Kerala FC.
The Malabarians took the lead after just 49 seconds on the clock. KRYPHSA were caught napping when a speculative clearance from the Gokulam Kerala FC half found Sabitra Bhandari. She got away with her sheer pace before delivering an inviting cross into the box. Prameshwori Devi was the first to react and found the back of the net with an instinctive finish.
The lead could have been doubled just five minutes later after Kamala Devi had put Bhandari through on goal. The latter made no mistake with her finish but her goal was ruled out for a foul on a covering Sweety Devi.
In the 25th minute, Gokulam Kerala FC earned a free-kick just on the edge of the 18-yard box for a foul on Michel Castanha. Kamala Devi volunteered for the dead ball and with a stroke of luck, her curling effort took a deflection of the yellow wall and crept beyond the reach of keeper Linthoingambi Devi, who didn’t stand a chance.
KRYPHSA roared back in the 33rd minute to change the complexion of the game altogether. Ranjan Chanu’s immaculate set-piece delivery from the left found Anju Tamang, who managed to flick it to the far post with the back of her head. Gokulam Kerala FC keeper Aditi Chauhan’s punch lacked power, leaving Dangmei Grace with an empty goal to aim at. The KRYPHSA skipper hit bull’s eye with a flurry of Maroon shirts closing her down as the deficit was reduced going into the break.
The second half resumed with a slightly more cautious approach as either side refrained from hitting full throttle early on.
A clearance from Aditi Chauhan in the 69th minute found Kamala Devi, who put Sabitra Bhandari through on goal but Linthoingambi Devi did brilliantly to come off her line and avert the danger.
With the match picking up pace, KRYPHSA’s Roja Devi chipped one into the box and Ratanbala Devi did brilliantly to read her intent and make the overlapping run. She stretched her favoured right foot and got the touch she was hoping for, beating an onrushing Aditi Chauhan to get her side back on level terms.
The drama wasn’t over yet, as KRYPHSA’s fairy-tale had a familiar antihero.
With just three minutes remaining of normal time, Manisha Kalyan won an aerial battle on the edge of the 18-yard box, before providing a low-driven delivery across goal. Gokulam Kerala FC talisman Bhandari was there again to finish as she struck a dagger through many KRYPHSA hearts.
Five minutes were added on, but Gokulam Kerala FC retained possession and saw out the final, yet precious seconds by introducing Agbo Esperence. Scenes of jubilation erupted at full-time as Gokulam Kerala were crowned the new IWL Champions.
The award-winners at the presentation ceremony were as follows:
Champions: Gokulam Kerala FC (Prize of Rs. 1,000,000)
Runners-up: Kangchup Road Young Physical and Sports Association (KRYPHSA) FC (Prize of Rs. 500,000)
Most Valuable Player (MVP): Ratanbala Devi of KRYPHSA FC (Prize of Rs. 125,000)
Highest scorer: Sabitra Bhandari of Gokulam Kerala FC (Prize of Rs. 100,000)
Best Goalkeeper: Linthoigambi Devi of KRYPHSA FC (Prize of Rs. 100,000)
Emerging Player of the Tournament: Manisha of Gokulam Kerala FC (Prize of Rs. 75,000)