Shillong, Feb 14: Gokulam Kerala were crowned champions of the 4th Indian Women’s League after a dramatic 3-2 victory over Kangchup Road Young Physical and Sports Association at the Bangalore Football Stadium today.
Gokulam 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 score 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.
The Malabarians took the lead after just 49 seconds on the clock. KRYPHSA were caught napping when a speculative clearance from the Gokulam half found 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 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 off the 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 keeper Aditi Chauhan’s punch lacked power, leaving Grace with an empty goal to aim at. The KRYPHSA skipper hit the 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 Chauhan in the 69th minute found Kamala Devi, who put Bhandari though on goal but Linthoingambi Devi did brilliantly to come off her line and avert 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 Chauhan to get her side back on level terms.
The drama wasn’t over yet, as KRYPHSA’s fairytale had a familiar anti-hero.
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 talisman Bhandari was there again to finish as she struck a dagger through many KRYPHSA hearts.
Five minutes were added on, but Gokulam retained possession and saw out the final. Scenes of jubilation erupted at full time as Gokulam Kerala were crowned the new IWL champions.
As champions Gokulam were awarded a cheque of Rs 10 lakh, while Rs 5 lakh went to KRYPHSA.
The individual awards all went to players from the two teams in the final. Ratanbala Devi was named Most Valuable Player and took home Rs 1.25 lakh, while Rs 1 lakh each was awarded to Golden Boot winner Bhandari and Best Goalkeeper Linthoingambi Devi. Manisha of Gokulam was chosen as Emerging Player of the Tournament and was awarded Rs 75,000.
(All India Football Federation photo)