The Malabarians will face ATK Mohun Bagan in their first group game of the continental championship.
Gokulam Kerala are all set to play their maiden AFC Cup. They are a part of Group D (South Asia Zone). Apart from AFC Cup 2022 debutants Gokulam Kerala, Bangladeshi side Basundhara Kings and Maldives-based Maziya Sports & Recreation Club were included in the group. After sealing victories in both the playoff matches, Indian outfit ATK Mohun Bagan also made their way into the same.
The Malabarians begin their campaign against Juan Ferrando’s side on May 18. Prior to the start of their AFC Cup journey, let’s take a look at the top five Gokulam Kerala players to watch out for in the competition.
5. Sharif Mukhammad
The 32-year-old Afghan is the captain of the side. Gokulam Kerala head coach Vincenzo Alberto Annese mainly uses him as a defensive midfielder to create a screen in front of the defensive third. Mukhammad is also an Afghan international. He has played 23 matches for the nation and even scored on one occasion.
Prior to joining Gokulam Kerala in 2020, Sharif was a member of the Maziya side. Therefore, it is expected that he has some good knowledge about one of the opponents they will face in the competition. Moreover, his statistics in the I-League prove him to be a vital member of the squad. In the 16 I-League matches, he has scored thrice and assisted two goals.
One negative side may be the conceding of yellow cards. In the current I-League, he has already been booked on four occasions and also saw a red in Gokulam’s penultimate I-League match against Sreenidi Deccan, leaving him suspended for the season finale against Mohammedan SC.
4. Jithin MS
The 24-year-old midfielder’s name is becoming prominent throughout the Indian football vertical due to his efficiency on the pitch. He has played all 16 matches I-League 2021-22. Moreover, he hasn’t been substituted even once. Such a feat can only be achieved by a midfielder if he plays an integral role in the team’s success. Jithin’s brilliancy has already attracted ISL clubs, who want to sign him for the upcoming season.
In the I-League, Jithin has netted four goals and provided two assists. He can turn out to be a key figure in their very first fixture against ATK Mohun Bagan.
3. Jourdaine Fletcher
The 23-year-old forward is one of the dangers Gokulam Kerala have in their bags. The Jamaican has netted nine goals in 13 I-League fixtures. Moreover, he has scored four of them in the four Championship stage matches. Though he is a centre-forward, he can be equally beneficial as a left-winger as well.
Undoubtedly, Fletcher is a genuine goal-getter as he has scored four goals each as a centre-forward and a left-winger. Against Rajasthan United, it was his solitary goal that helped the Malabarians secure a victory. Annese will heavily rely on him to break the opponents’ defensive lines.
Fletcher also possesses the experience of playing for his country. Ever since his debut in February 2017, the Jamaican has appeared thrice for the nation and also scored a goal.
2. Emil Benny
Just like Jithin MS, Emil Benny too has played every game for Gokulam Kerala in the I-League 2021/22. Benny, who rose from the Kerala Blasters and Gokulam Kerala B sides, now plays an integral role in the heart of midfield for the Malabarians.
Though Benny is an attacking midfielder by trade, he has mostly been used as a defensive midfielder by the think tank this season. Notably, he has provided two assists in the I-League.
1. Luka Majcen
The Slovenian forward is the most impactful performer for Gokulam Kerala. Undoubtedly, the AFC Cup will surely witness a few delightful moments from the 32-year-old. Luka Majcen can be a real pain for the opponents if they don’t do their homework properly.
Majcen has played for the youth teams of the Slovenian national team and even has a couple of goals to his name. In the I-League, he has scored 13 goals in 12 appearances. Majcen also enjoys the ability to create opportunities for his teammates; he has provided five assists. He will be the main threat for the opponents in the AFC Cup and the main man on whom Annese will rely for goals.