Kickstart FC progressed to the final of the 2023 Indian Women's League, after a convincing 2-0 win over Sethu FC in the semifinal. First-half goals from Kioko Elizabeth and Saru Limbu gave the Bengaluru-based side the win, who finished third in the 2021-22 IWL and will either face defending champions Gokulam Kerala or Eastern Sporting Union in the final.
Sethu FC had come into the semifinal as favourites, after a run of eight unbeaten games, which saw them top Group B, with Kickstart finishing second behind them and requiring an injury-time winner to defeat HOPS FC in the quarterfinal.
With the game between both sides in the group stage finishing 0-0, it was no surprise to witness a sedate start to the game, although Kickstart had the edge in terms of penetration up the field. Yet, the first shot in anger came in the 5th minute from Sethu, with Priyangka Devi scuffing her effort in the box after Sumati Kumari set her up. More excellent work from the Sethu winger came about in the 7th minute, but her floated cross to the far post saw Apurna Narzary head over via a deflection.
The opener came in the 11th minute in anti-climactic fashion - a long ball from Banti Sharma was flicked on towards goal by Babita Devi, but Purnima Kumari and Anjila Subba in the Sethu goal looked to have it covered between then as they converged on the ball. However, Kioko Elizabeth ghosted in behind Purnima and toe poked the ball through the Sethu keeper, watching it trickle into the net to give Kickstart a 1-0 lead.
They nearly doubled their lead in the 23rd minute, as Anjila flapped at a corner, with the ball ricocheting off Dorcas Sikobe onto the post. A flurry of opportunities for Kickstart followed with Gladys Zonunsangi clearing off the line, to keep Sethu's deficit at a solitary goal. The side from Tamil Nadu offered little going forward, with Muskan Subba often over-hitting long balls for Kajol D'souza to chase, with little success.
However, Kajol, who is the highest-scoring Indian in the league, nearly equalized for Sethu in the 42nd minute, running on to a cutback from Narzary in the box, but watched in agony as her well-timed strike cannoned off the crossbar. The bad luck continued right before the break, as Priyangka saw her low drive from the edge of the box tipped onto the post by Maibam Linthoi Devi in the Kickstart goal.
Sethu were made to pay for their profligacy seconds before the half-time whistle blew, as Nepalese international Saru Limbu let fly from 30 yards out and found the top corner, with her fellow countryman Anjali having no chance despite her despairing dive. Kickstart thus went into the break with a 2-0 lead, just 45 minutes away from the IWL final.
Sethu came out all-guns blazing in the second half, with furious appeals for a penalty turned down in the 49th minute after Banti Sharma appeared to handle the ball in the box. From the resulting corner, Joseph Naik's side nearly grabbed a goal back, but Sikobe saw her glancing header narrowly miss the target.
Sonia Marak came on for Kickstart around the hour mark, and was immediately in the wars, at the wrong end of a stamp from Sikobe, who was perhaps lucky to just escape with a yellow card. The midfielder attempted to soldier on, but had to go off in the 72nd minute.
Moments later, Sumati got the better of Banti Sharma once more and burst into the box from the left channel, before rifling a low drive past Maibam but also inches wide of the post. Sethu were struggling to create much though, as Kickstart were able to rely on Dalima Chhibber and Wangkhem Linthoingambi Devi marshalling their rearguard to snuff out any danger, with the cushion of a two-goal lead.
With the minutes ticking away, Sethu grew increasingly desperate, with Narzary snatching at a shot from the edge of the box, ignoring Sumati in space in the box. Priyangka also scuffed a shot wide in injury time, but Sethu had given up the ghost by then. The final whistle blew a few minutes later, with Kickstart celebrating their maiden final in the IWL, and a shot at a first national title.