Gokulam Kerala FC made a dream start to their AFC Cup 2022 campaign, registering a 4-2 victory over ATK Mohun Bagan FC in a thrilling all-Indian Group D clash at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan Stadium on Wednesday.
Luka Majcen bagged a brace and set up another goal for the I-League champions, who scored three times in 15 second-half minutes to stun Juan Ferrando’s charges in front of over 30,000 thoroughly entertained fans.
With only the group winners to advance to the knockout stage, Vincenzo Alberto Annese’s men will have the opportunity to further strengthen their position when they meet Maziya Sports & Recreation on Saturday, while ATK Mohun Bagan will have no margin for error against Bashundhara Kings.
Gokulam Kerala came into the tournament opener fresh from securing a second successive I-League title, but it was Indian Super League outfit ATK Mohun Bagan, and more specifically Roy Krishna, who looked most likely to provide the AFC Cup 2022’s first goal.
The Fijian forward had an ambitious 40-yard attempt parried away in uncertain fashion by Rakshit Dagar in the fourth minute and volleyed a Liston Colaco cross over the bar from close range shortly after, but his closest call came on 18 minutes, when he dribbled his way into the penalty area before drilling an effort into the base of the crossbar.
Having survived that early onslaught, Gokulam Kerala grew into the game, and had a close call of their own when Emil Benny’s curling effort edged narrowly over the crossbar, while ATK Mohun Bagan suffered a blow when defender Tiri sustained what appeared to be a serious leg injury while attempting to dispossess Majcen.
The hosts had piled on a dozen shots at goal without reward in the first half, and their early wastefulness came back to haunt them just six minutes into the second, with Majcen left totally unmarked to poke home Thahir Zaman’s cross and put Gokulam Kerala ahead.
ATK Mohun Bagan were level just two minutes later, with Pritam Kotal on hand to steer home Colaco’s corner kick, which Gokulam Kerala did little to defend having fought so hard to take the lead, but it wouldn’t be long before they regained their advantage.
The Indian Super League side’s poor marking was punished for a second time, with Jourdaine Fletcher able to take his time picking out Rishad PP, who steered the ball home despite a solid touch from goalkeeper Amrinder Singh to make it 2-1 on 57 minutes.
Gokulam Kerala were in full swing, and they extended their lead through Majcen eight minutes later, with the Slovenian ghosting into open space to expose ATK Mohun Bagan’s defensive frailties for a third time and taking his personal tally for the night to two.
The impressive Colaco gave Ferrando’s men a fighting chance when a curled in a superb free-kick to make it 3-2 with 10 minutes remaining, but it wasn’t enough to deny Gokulam Kerala, who finally put the result beyond doubt when Jithin MS latched onto Majcen’s pass before easing the ball home from close range in the 90th minute to seal a famous win.