Kickstart FC started their 2023-24 Indian Women’s League Campaign with a win over HOPS FC, whereas the defending champions Gokulam Kerala FC were held to a goalless draw by Sethu FC.

Sethu, champions in 2018-19, executed their game plan perfectly but were certainly assisted by the sheer uncertainty displayed by Gokulam upfront. Unlike the free-flowing side they were last season, the home side often looked clueless despite having the lion’s share of the exchanges.

Yet the show could have been different—for Gokulam, at least. The likes of Soumya Guguloth, Anju Tamang and Ghanaian Veronica Appiah were clearly the better players, with more imagination and approach to situations. But all their good work went haywire in the attacking third, much to the relief of Sethu defenders.

It wasn’t that the teams didn’t make efforts to attack or create chances within their limitations. While Gokulam showered crosses from both flanks at regular intervals, Sethu did some good work through the left. But then, most of the crosses were either ill-directed or went abegging with no one to take care of them.

Gokulam can claim that some of their key attackers from last year’s side are currently missing from the line-up. It definitely cannot take the credit away from Sethu’s defenders, who stuck to their strategy to take a point home.

It is a good achievement for them and they can be more ambitious when they host the queens of club football in India in their backyard.

This is the inaugural year of home and away games in the IWL and Gokulam must be disappointed to surrender a couple of points on their home turf.

On the other hand, Sethu FC coach Kanan Vitthal Priolkar has surely returned to the dressing room a satisfied man. He spoke about his ambition to snatch a point in the away outing and he achieved his purpose successfully, no matter how unspectacular his defensive tactics were.

Kickstart FC win against HOPS FC

Last year’s runners-up Kickstart FC were all at ease against hosts HOPS FC before running away with a 3-0 victory on Saturday at the latter’s home ground.

In stark contrast, HOPS FC neither hopped nor jumped. Instead, they limped and struggled to a defeat, the margin of which could have easily been bigger.

Barring a couple of shots that hit the crossbar and the post, the home side did little of note that could have cheered up the handful of spectators in the stands. However, their Ghanaian recruits – midfielder Gladys Amfobea and striker Fredrica Torkudzor, have the potential to help the team grow shortly.

Kickstart are a far more composed side with serious intentions to have a go at the title, which they lost to Gokulam Kerala FC last year. A few losses of players in the transfer market notwithstanding, the Karnataka side have revamped their side with fresh recruits and could be expected to do better as the season progresses. Their two Nepalese strikers – Dipa Shahi and Preeti Rai, are smooth operators and often play intelligent passes in the attacking zone.

Karishma Purushottam opened the scoring for the winners in the 13th minute with a delicate shot to the top corner of the right. But the fact that she was allowed to grab the ball and take a shot was a mistake by the HOPS defence as the ball should have been cleared easily.

It was the first goal of the IWL 2023-24 as the opening match between Gokulam Kerala FC and Sethu FC ended in a goalless draw in Kozhikode on Friday.

Ten minutes later came the second goal, this time Sushmita Lepcha made her way through the defence before finding the target. Thereafter, Kickstart FC made several inroads but a lack of decision-making in front of the rival goal let them down.

Things didn’t change in the second half, with the winners attacking relentlessly and HOPS surviving by the skin of their teeth. They, however, succumbed again in the 64th minute with a goal that left even the scorer herself surprised.

Substitute Yumlembam Pakpi Devi perhaps wasn’t planning a straight attempt at the goal; she probably went for a cross, but the ball swung in to find the net most impressively. It was certainly the best goal of the match.