Preview: Gokulam Kerala, Odisha FC eye for AFC Cup group stage spot
The sides will lock horns in a one-off game, for a place in the group stages of the 2023-24 AFC Cup.
Just days after their euphoric victory against Bengaluru – that saw the Juggernauts get their first piece of silverware – Odisha FC march on. To further add to the joys they have had this season, Odisha will now prepare to take on I-League side Gokulam Kerala, in a one-off game for a group stage berth in the upcoming AFC Cup – the second-tier of Asian club football.
Gokulam come as the winners of the 2021-22 I-League, whereas Odisha recently won the 2023 Hero Super Cup. Therefore, because of the transitional switch in the calendar of 2023–24 AFC Champions League and the 2023–24 AFC Cup, from spring-to-autumn to an autumn-to-spring schedule, the All India Football Federation has decided that its continental slots will be determined by an extra playoff, officially known as Hero Club Playoff for sponsorship reasons.
The playoff game between Odisha and Gokulam will be played on the 29th of April, Saturday, at the EMS Stadium, Kozhikode, Kerala.
Gokulam haven’t been able to meet their extraordinary standards this season, and would be disappointed with themselves to have missed a chance to get promoted into the ISL.
After two back-to-back title triumphs in the 2020-21 and 2021-22 season, the Malabarians finished third in the I-League. They were fairly disappointing in the Super Cup as well, where they finished fourth in their group, failing to muster up a single point.
Although the club finds itself in a desperate state at the moment, the I-League side will have a chance to make it big and qualify for Asia this Saturday.
They have to pick themselves up and get into the correct mentality from the first minute. If they want to register a shock victory against Odisha and earn the honour of representing the nation in Asia’s second biggest club competition, Gokulam will need to attack from get go.
Odisha FC, as mentioned, are coming into this game on the back of an emphatic victory, that earned the side its first ever silverware. It has been a historic season for the club and this was their moment of silver lining added to it.
With a win this Saturday, Odisha can achieve something which only a few clubs have been able to pull off in the past – the opportunity to represent India at the continental level.
To feature in one of the biggest stages of Asian football, and to play against some of the best players and teams across the continent is something that the Eastern Dragons will be eyeing for, when they take on Gokulam on the 29th.
Injury & Team News
Both teams have a fit squad going into the game.
On Saturday, Gokulam Kerala and Odisha will play against each other for the very first time.
Gokulam Kerala FC (4-3-3)
Shibin Raj Kunniyil (GK); Mohammd Jasim, Pawan Kumar, Aminou Bouba, Vikas Saini; Shilton D’Silva, Farshad Noor, Omar Ramos; Sreekuttan VS, Samuel Mensah Kooney, Sourav K.
Odisha FC (4-2-3-1)
Amrinder Singh (GK); Narender Gahlot, Osama Malik, Carlos Delgado, Sahil Panwar; Thoiba Singh, Princeton Rebello; Jerry Mawihmingthanga, Victor Rodriguez, Nandhakumar Sekar; Diego Mauricio.
Player to Watch
Aminou Bouba (Gokulam Kerala FC)
Aminou has been a brilliant servant for the club, and has bolstered Gokulam’s backline this season. The Cameroonian was also given the defender of the season award at the end of this I-League season , and his partnership with Pawan Kumar at the back will be very crucial for Gokulam on Saturday.
Aminou also has a great eye to find the right pass. His distribution is something that Gokulam will be looking to use to get past a rigid Odisha midfield.
Victor Rodriguez (Odisha FC)
Gokulam Kerala, have a very rigid and tight defensive system that poses a lot of difficulties for a number of teams. To break this tough backline of Gokulam, Odisha will have to rely on their Spanish linchpin Victor Rodriguez. The Spaniard has been sensational for Odisha recently, and has been the creative mastermind on the pitch for his team in the Hero Super Cup.
Victor’s contributions on Saturday will be crucial in his team’s pursuit to break this tough Gokulam Kerala defence.
Did You Know?
- Gokulam were the only team in the 2023 Hero Super Cup to have ended their campaign without a single point.
- The last time Odisha had a four-game winning streak, the covid era was yet to come.
- With their triumph over Bengaluru FC, Clifford Miranda became the first Indian head coach to have ever won the Hero Super Cup.
The match between Gokulam Kerala and Odisha FC will be played at the EMS Stadium, Kozhikode, Kerala on Saturday (22nd February). Kick-off time is 7 PM IST. The match will be streamed live on Fan Code.
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