Gokulam Kerala FC are the champions of the I-League for the first time. Plus, the end of season awards – official and unofficial.
Dennis Antwi walked across the pitch donning a pair of sunglasses. It was nearly 7 pm in Kolkata but the Ghanian walked with a swagger. Of course, he would. He had just scored the third goal as Gokulam Kerala were on their way to winning their first ever I-League trophy.
The three-horse race kicked off at 5 pm where the teams locked on 26 points and vying for the I-League crown.
Key moments of the final round
- 8’ Luka Majcen puts Churchill in front from the spot. [CB: 29, GK: 27, TR: 27]
- 24’ Bidyashagar Singh scores for TRAU! [TR: 29, CB: 29, GK: 26]
- 25’ Clayvin Zuniga scores for Churchill. [TR: 29, CB: 29, GK: 26]
- 45’ Clayvin Zuniga scores again. 3-1 to Churchill. [TR: 29, CB: 29, GK: 26]
- 66’ Joseba Beitia pulls one back for Punjab. [TR: 29, CB: 29, GK: 26]
- 69’ Baba Diawara makes it 3-2! Churchill rattled. [TR: 29, CB: 29, GK: 26]
- 70’ Sharif Mukhammad’s freekick breaches the TRAU defense! 1-1. Churchill are ahead in the points table. [CB: 29, GK: 27, TR: 27]
- 74’ Emil Benny gives Gokulam the lead to put Malabarians at the top of the table! [GK: 29, CB: 29, TR: 27]
- 77’ Dennis Antwi all but confirms Gokulam’s grip on the trophy as they go 3-1 up. [GK: 29, CB: 29, TR: 27]
- 90+8′ Gokulam ends the I-League in style as Mohammed Rashid starts the celebrations by scoring with the last kick of the match. [GK: 29, CB: 29, TR: 27]
Dennis Antwi raises the
A remarkable run of form by the Malabarians saw them clinch the title in the end. A 3-2 loss to Churchill in the final match of the regular season saw the Goan team go six points clear at the top with 22 points.
Dennis Antwi struck form as he scored in each match in the championship round – seven goals in five matches to enable the Malabarians to pick up 13 points in the process.
By the time Gokulam beat Mohammedan SC in the penultimate match, three teams were on even terms.
You know what happened next.
Gokulam Kerala FC became the first team from Kerala to win the I-League and will now get the chance to represent India in the AFC Cup 2021-22.
Trauma for Tiddim Road
You got to feel for the members of TRAU FC. The clear outsiders dug in deep to hang around the top half of the table. Six points from the last two matches in the regular season helped them finish sixth and into the championship round.
Then it was the Bidyashagar Singh show. Back to back hat tricks put his team within touching distance of the table toppers. Komrom Tursanov’s bullet freekick against Punjab made it three wins in three matches as TRAU went top.
Tursanov bid adieu owing to the commitments to the Tajikistan national team. With the playmaker missing, TRAU struggled in the draw against Churchill and with 20 minutes to go against Gokulam, the I-League trophy was heading towards Imphal. Then it all fell apart.
As for Bidyashagar Singh, he becomes only the fourth Indian to top goal scoring charts in the history of the National League and I-League. The other players being Bhaichung Bhutia, Raman Vijayan and Sunil Chhetri.
The Goal-Scoring Ratio
The Top-10 ten goal scorers list features nine foreigners and one Indian – Bidyashagar Singh on top with 12 goals.
Luka Majcen scored from the spot again while Dennis Antwi’s goal confirmed the championship for Gokulam. The duo finished in second spot with 11 goals each.
A total of 214 goals had been scored from 80 matches with an average of 2.6 goals per match. That’s not bad at all.
The overall tally at the end looks like this:
Indian players – 109
Foreign players – 100
Own goals – 5
Bidyashagar Singh was adjudged to be the Player of the Tournament along with his Golden Boot. Punjab FC’s Nepalese goalkeeper, Kiran Chemjong, was awarded with the Golden Gloves for his seven clean sheets.
The Jarnail Singh Award for the best defender went to Churchill Brothers FC’s Lebanese import, Hamza Kheir . TRAU FC’s captain Phalguni Singh won the Best Midfielder award.
The Syed Abdul Rahim Award for the Best Coach was awarded to TRAU’s Leimapokpam Nandakumar Singh.
Finally, Gokulam Kerala’s Emil Benny won the Emerging Player of the League award.
Match of the season: Gokulam Kerala FC v RoundGlass Punjab FC
In a matchup of the sponsored-state names, Gokulam Kerala FC came from two goals down and netted thrice in the second half to earn a remarkable comeback 4-3 win against RoundGlass Punjab FC.
The halftime score read 3-1 and it looked to remain that way when Kiran Limbu saved Dennis Antwi’s penalty. Then came the crazy six minutes when it all fell apart for Punjab as Antwi made amends with a brace before an own goal to make it 4-3 in favor of Gokulam.
Shithousery of the season award: Gokulam v NEROCA
Dennis Antwi was brought down in the box in the 84th minute. The Ghanian picked up the ball and placed it on the penalty spot.
He has two of his teammates for company: his Ghanian compatriot Philip Adjah and Afghan midfielder Sharif Mukhammed are demanding for the right to take the spot kick.
Even the rival goalkeeper was fed up with the antics and asked them to get over it and take the kick. Antwi moved away but Adjah and Sharif are arguing over the spotkick like two school kids in a house match. It was then Sharif decided to boot the ball over to the sidelines and trudge away like a future champ.
Emerging teenager of the season award:
Teenager Gourav Mukhi who made a handful of appearances in the Mohammedan SC jersey as a 22-year-old.
Early bird gets the goal award:
Komron Tursanov scored the fastest goal in I-League history. Officially nine seconds on the clock. The record is so ridiculous that the second fastest goal of the season – also scored by Tursanov – was clocked at 105 seconds.
105 seconds! That’s two extra digits! Get that amateurish stuff out of here.
Johan Cryuff Total Footballer Award:
The PTI reporter who bypassed the midfield to term Real Kashmir skipper Mason Robertson as a “striker-cum-defender” prompting multiple publications to copy-paste the same.
Covid-19 Test of the Season Award:
When two players from Chennai City FC were tested positive for COVID-19, they were kept in isolation alongside their roommates were kept in isolation. However, a re-test in another lab had shown all the four players to be negative.
AIFF’s decision: The players are ineligible to play.
Football Family Award:
Aizawl FC‘s coach, Stanly Rozario, parted ways with Aizawl FC after the first match of the season. He opted to be there for his daughter’s wedding.
Mohammedan SC being Mohammedan SC Award:
Gift Raikhan is not the only gift that keeps on giving.
Mohammedan SC fired their coach Yan Law in the I-League qualifiers in October 2020. They hired Jose Hevia as replacement. In Feb 2021, they lost 3-0 to Aizawl FC, who were coached by – you guessed it: Yan Law.
Hevia is fired after the match and the club puts out an official statement which was copied word to word from that of ISL team, NorthEast United.
Backhanded Quote of the Season:
Indian national team coach, Igor Stimac, on I-League players. “The best players in I-League are supposed to join the ISL as the ISL scouts follow the league as well. I had seen I-League matches live last season and some players were great. Most of them are now playing in the ISL”.
Congratulations again to Gokulam Kerala FC. Yet another new champion, the fourth in the last five seasons. This is the I-League, where all men can dream equally.
For more Indian football, keep an eye out for the State Leagues.