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Mohammedan Sporting banks on big home support to wrest I-League title from Gokulam Kerala

Defending champion Gokulam Kerala seems to have come under a mountain of pressure just at a time when it looked assured of becoming the first team in the history of the I-League to win back-to-back crowns.

The 3-1 loss against Sreenidi Deccan in the penultimate round seems to be discounting the creditable record of the Kozhikode-based club that had prided itself on remaining unbeaten in the previous 21 matches just before it.

The lone setback in an eternally long reign of success seems to be bothering Gokulam Kerala, which now appears to be on the defensive against a rejuvenated local aspirant in Mohammedan Sporting.

The Kolkata club is suddenly seeing the possibility of winning its maiden I-League crown. This is because the I-League regulations take into account the head-to-head score in case of a tie on points.

Mohammedan Sporting, which is placed second with 37 points, will be benefiting from this provision if it is able to beat GKFC (on 40 points) on Saturday and draws level on points. The two teams had played out a 1-1 draw in the first phase and Mohammedan hopes to count on the partisan support to get the result in its favour in the decisive tie.

Seeing the concluding league match turning into a virtual knock-out final, the organisers arranged the match at the giant Slate Lake Stadium, which can accommodate around 70,000 spectators. Statistically, Gokulam Kerala is still the favorite as it needs just a point to retain the crown but for that it needs to overcome the challenge of a rejuvenated local side that has suddenly discovered the possibility of bringing the trophy home.

Gokulam Kerala’s Italian head coach Vincenzo Alberto Annese, who will be missing the services of two key players in the Afghanistan midfielder Sharif Mukhammad and forward Jithin M.S. owing to suspension, hoped his players would show the right spirit to secure the requisite points for the title.

“We will be playing in front of almost 40,000 supporters, for that we need the fighting spirit in the proper measure,” Annese said on the eve of the match.

Mohammedan Sporting’s Russian coach Andrey Chernyshov said, “This is football. Anybody can win or lose in a minute. Now we have the chance to win the title and our fans are excited about it. It is good for Indian football. Two good teams will fight for the title.”

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