KOLKATA: Gokulam Kerala and Mohun Bagan are both aiming to end a remarkable Durand Cup campaign by winning the title when they face off in the championship clash at Vivekananda Yubabharati Krirangan on Saturday, kick-off 5 pm.
Gokulam, who reached final in their maiden Durand Cup appearance, will compete against a side that has been there 26 times before – and successful 16 of them.
Having stunned East Bengal 3-2 on penalties in the first semifinal, the Malabarians will need to pull off an even greater shock in order to deny the Mariners the trophy, who grounded high-flying Real Kashmir 3-1 in extra time to book their place in the finale.
It’s a big ask for the young side but coach Santiago Varela believes the side has the talent and mental strength to do well.
“I think we are well prepared as we can be for this match,” Varela told IndiaFooty. “Players have to be confident with themselves, they have to believe in themselves. Of course we’re facing a very tough opponent in Mohun Bagan and it will be tough for us, but hopefully we can make it a bit tough on them too.” he added.
Varela’s charges started the competition as underdogs, but have grown stronger and stronger as the tournament has progressed. Since the beginning of the tournament, Malabarians excelled in all compartments with very positive results four victories and a draw (followed by win on penalties) in as many matches, this is the record of Gokulam who came from a long way.
Gokualm presents a complete and solid team on all lines. It has a very solid defense that has only conceded two goals so far in the tournament with a midfield where Shibil Muhammed, the handyman, defeats a titanic job supported by Mohammad Rashid who knows how to vary the game, while skipper Marcus Joseph weighs a lot about the opposing defenses.
Having scored 9 goals in 4 matches including two hat-tricks, Marcus has deservedly taken many of the plaudits in the tournament, but Henry Kisseka and Malemngamba Meetei have often been just as important to many of Gokualm’s winning efforts.
The strength of Gokulam also lies in the depth of their bench where Bruno Pelissari, Mohamed Salah or Rahul KP are able to do as much as the starters.
Although Mohun Bagan’s experience and pedigree sets them up as favorites, in finals nothing is won in advance. And previous games have noted that there are teams that improve as the competition progresses. And favorite teams have paid the price.
Interestingly, Gokulam are the only second club from Kerala to reach the final of Durand Cup, after FC Kochin who beat Mohun Bagan in 1997 to clinch the title.