Defending champions Gokulam Kerala progressed to the final of the 2023 Indian Women's League, after a dominant 5-1 win over Eastern Sporting Union. The Manipuri side went ahead thanks to Yumnam Kamala Devi, but goals from Indumathi Kathiseran, Sabitra Bhandari and Vivian Adjei ensured Gokulam kept up their streak of 27 games unbeaten in the first game under floodlights during IWL 2023.
Gokulam Kerala face Kickstart FC in the 2023 IWL final on Sunday, the 21st of May, with the Bengaluru-based side defeating Sethu FC 2-0 in the other semifinal.
Gokulam underlined their levels of motivation by bundling the ball into the net in the second minute itself, but Hemam Shilky Devi's strike from Ashalata Devi's cross was ruled out for offside. The defending champions kept up the early pressure, with Sabitra Bhandari sending Indumathi Kathiseran through on goal in the right channel, but her chip over the keeper saw the ball bounce off the crossbar.
Sandhya Ranganathan produced a trivela pass to put Sabitra through on goal in the thirteenth minute, but some tight marking from Th Sahena saw the ESU defender block the shot on goal. The attacks continued as Panthoi Chanu pulled off a superb save from Dangmei Grace's shot in the 17th minute, and nervously claimed Shilky's header from the resulting cross as ESU held on.
Seconds later, Gokulam were hit against the run of play as Yumnam Kamala Devi produced a moment of pure magic to give Eastern Sporting Union the lead in the 18th minute. Latching onto a hopeful long ball from Nirmala Devi, the veteran attacker brought down the ball, watched it bounce and volleyed one right over Beatrice Nketia in the Gokulam goal, who was left stranded.
Sabitra spurned another gilt-edged chance for Gokulam, after Indumathi's header sent her through on goal in the 24th minute, but Panthoi charged the shot down and saved it one-on-one. However, the ESU keeper's good work was undone by Linda Chanu a couple of minutes later, as she was adjudged to have fouled Bhandari and conceded a penalty, although replays showed the decision was generous, and perhaps outside the box.
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There were plenty of protests from the ESU players, resulting in a delay in the spot-kick, but Indumathi was less than perturbed as she struck it to her left with Panthoi left with no chance to prevent the score becoming 1-1 in the 31st minute. Tempers did not cool in the cooling break that followed, with ESU's assistant coach sent off by the referee.
However, the break did impact the fluency of both sides, with plenty of disjointed football as the half progressed. Gokulam made a couple of attacking changes in the 44th minute, with Soumiya Narayanasamy coming on for Beatrice, while Vivian Adjei replaced Manasa K. Yet, it was a long ball from Ashalata that proved to be the difference, with Sabitra pouncing on it ahead of Nirmala Devi and Panthoi, rounding off the keeper before poking it home to make it 2-1 in the third minute of injury time, with GKFC leading into the break.
Gokulam did not waste much time in consolidating their lead in the second half, making it 3-1 in the 55th minute via Adjei. Indumathi started a quick transition in midfield with a peach of a through ball to Sabitra in the left channel, who sent in a low cross for Adjei to tap it home from a couple of yards out. The Ghanaian striker was put through on goal by Sandhya minutes later, but fluffed her lines with Panthoi bearing down on her.
Adjei returned the favour to Sandhya on the hour mark, but the Indian winger curled her shot wide as Gokulam looked to put the game to bed. They finished the job in the 70th minute, after Sabitra Bhandari produced a stunning cross-field ball from the left touchline to find Indumathi in space, who's first-time header was guided beautifully into the net to make it 4-1.
With the game done and dusted, there was still time for things to worsen for ESU, with Anjali Devi coming on to replace substitute Lhingdei Kim, who was stretchered off in tears in the 85th minute. Sabitra made it 5-1 for Anthony Andrews' side in injury time, running on to a through ball from Adjei, poking it past Panthoi before rolling it into an empty net.
The final whistle came soon enough, as Gokulam set up their shot at defending their title in ominous fashion, with Kickstart the only team left in their way.