Defending champions Gokulam Kerala FC cruised past Eastern Sporting Union 5-1 in the Indian Women’s League semi-final at the TransStadia on Friday, May 19. They take on Kickstart FC in the final. The Karnataka team beat Sethu, Madurai 2-0 in the earlier semi-final.

The Malabarians started the game on the strong foot and pressurised the Eastern Sporting Union defence right from the get-go. Goalkeeper Elangbam Panthoi Chanu had a particularly busy time staving off Gokulam Kerala’s constant attempts on goal.

In the 18th minute, however, Gokulam were stunned when Yumnam Kamala Devi gave the Imphal-based team the lead out of nowhere with a goal-of-the-season contender. The forward took control of an aerial delivery outside the box and drove it outrageously to catch Gokulam Kerala goalkeeper Beatrice Ntiwaa Nketia away from the line as the ball landed into the back of the net.

The goal instilled some confidence into Eastern Sporting Union as they kept marching forward in numbers. However, the Malabarians bounced back stronger and continued to produce some good passages of play in the opposition half. In the 26th minute, their hard work paid dividends. Sabitra Bhandari was brought down inside the box by Heirangkhongjam Linda Chanu and the referee immediately pointed towards the spot. Indumathi Kathiresan made no mistake in finding the back of the net as she pulled the scores level at 1-1.

In the dying seconds of the first half, Bhandari snatched a long ball from Loitongbam Ashalata Devi and rounded Panthoi before slotting it home.

The Malabarians stepped up their game and fired on all cylinders in the second half. Substitute forward Vivian Adjei went on to make it 3-1 in the 55th minute as she completed a brilliant team move with a goal. In the 70th minute, another link-up play between Bhandari and Indumathi saw the latter scoring her second of the game to make it 4-1.

Later Bhandari also completed her brace in the fifth minute of added time to put Gokulam Kerala on course for winning their third straight IWL title.

Kickstart through to final

Sethu began the proceedings on a positive note as they came close to opening the scoring in the seventh minute. Sumati Kumari’s inch-perfect cross from the left flank was met by Apurna Narzary with a header. But her attempt deflected off a Kickstart defender and went out for a corner kick.

To the former IWL champions’ surprise, Kickstart took an unexpected lead three minutes later. Kioko Elizabeth Katungwa caught the Sethu defence off-guard and poked an incoming ball through the legs of goalkeeper Anjila Subba to make it 1-0.

The team from Bengaluru continued to press hard and forced Sethu to play on the back foot. In the 24th minute, Kaviya Pakkirisamy almost doubled her side’s lead from a free-kick. The forward’s powerfully-struck left-footed shot missed the target by inches.

Saru Limbu for Kickstart who produced a moment of sheer brilliance deep into the added time of the first half. The Nepal midfielder dribbled through the midfield unchallenged and had all the time to take a peek at the goal and drive it from distance. Her fierce strike was out of her international teammate Anjila Subba’s reach as it went straight through the top left corner and into the back of the net.

Sethu showed signs of resurgence in the second half as they looked desperate to bounce back into the game. In the 72nd minute, the lively Sumati Kumari marched forward for a through ball and fired a grounded shot with her left foot which missed the target by a whisker.

Kickstart held their two-goal lead firmly and capped off a memorable evening with a convincing win.