An impressive pre-season performance boosting their confidence, Gokulam Kerala would look to open their campaign with a win when they take on Neroca FC of Manipur on the opening day of the 13th I-League in Kozhikode on Saturday.
Gokulam won their first-ever silverware of note, the Durand Cup in August, and that was followed up with a semi-final appearance in the Sheikh Kamal International Club Cup in Bangladesh.
The Kerala club, which finished seventh and tenth in their first two I-League campaigns, will be hoping to hit the ground running immediately against Neroca at the EMS Corporation Stadium.
Gokulam have made several acquisitions, including the re-appointment of Fernando Santiago Varela as head coach. They have also roped in five new players this weekend, including the likes of Sebastian Thangmuansang, Naocha Singh and Malemngamba Meitei.
Ugandan forward Henry Kisekka has also returned to the club, following a spell with Mohun Bagan last season.
Speaking ahead of the match, Varela said, “For us it is a matter of pride to be able to represent our fans. It is our obligation to put on a good show for them and for them to enjoy watching the team play.
He added, “We had good outings at Durand Cup and Sheikh Kamal tournament against prestigious teams. We are aware of having created expectations, but we must be humble and know that we must always improve.”
Neroca, on the other hand, will be helmed by Gift Raikhan. They have made significant strides in the transfer market, having roped in veteran Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Marvin Devon Phillip and his compatriot, 22-year-old defender Taryk Sampson.
The Imphal-based side will, however, be missing some key players from last season like Katsumi Yusa and Singham Subash Singh among others. But by and large, they have the nucleus still intact and with their new exciting foreign signings like Malian Boubacar Diara upfront, can prove to be a handful for Gokulam.
Neroca captain Marvin Devon Phillip said, “The preparation has been great over the last couple of months under the guidance of the coach. We have a youthful bunch and we are all eager to get underway on Saturday. It’s going to be a tough season but we are all set for this challenge.”
The last meeting between the two sides was a cagey affair, with Marcus Joseph of the Kerala side scoring a 82nd minute-winner.