Defending champions Gokulam Kerala began their I-League title defence with a 1–0 win over last season’s runners-up Churchill Brothers in Kalyani on Sunday. (More Football News)
Gokulam Kerala skipper Sharif Mohammad scored the solitary goal of the match from the penalty spot early in the first half.
Both teams made a nervy start to the game as they employed direct attacking football by way of long balls at opponents' citadel.
The Malabarians found the breakthrough after being awarded a penalty in the 16th minute. As the pacy Ngangom Ronald Singh skilfully surged with the ball into the Churchill Brothers box, he was brought down by Lebanese Shadi Skaf.
Skipper Sharif Mohammad stepped up to take the resultant spot kick and calmly slotted the ball into the bottom left corner to give Gokulam the advantage.
Churchill Brothers’ first big chance of the game fell in the way of Bryce Miranda in the 21st minute, when Brazilian Guilherme Dos Santos sent Miranda in the clear. Miranda's shot was, however, saved brilliantly by Gokulam goalkeeper Rakshit Dagar.
Gokulam Kerala nearly doubled their lead in the added time of first half. Midfielder Thahir Zaman produced a fantastic snapshot from an angle which beat Churchill Brothers goalkeeper Shilton Paul, but he was denied by the woodwork.
Churchill Brothers increased the tempo of their play in the second half but could not create any clear scoring chance.
As Churchill Brothers hunted an equaliser, the best chance of the second half again fell to the Malabarians in the 68th minute.
Ronald Singh, who was a constant menace for the Churchill defence from the right flank, again got the better of his marker and sent an inch-perfect cross. But, Thahir Zaman could not get a clean contact on his header and Shilton Paul did not have much difficulty in clearing it.
From the subsequent corner, Cameroonian Aminou Bouba's free header sailed inches above the bar.