GKFC captain Sharif Mukhammad scored the only goal of the match from the penalty spot.

Defending champions Gokulam Kerala FC began their Hero I-League title defence in solid fashion with a 1 – 0 win over last season’s runners-up Churchill Brothers at the Kalyani Stadium here in Kolkata today. Gokulam Kerala skipper Sharif Mukhammad scored the solitary goal of the match from the penalty spot early in the first half.

Both teams made a nervy start to the game as they cancelled each other out in the opening exchanges of the game. As each team began to grow into the contest, their intentions were laid bare as both Gokulam Kerala and Churchill Brothers looked for a direct attacking threat by way of long balls behind the opponent’s last line of defence.

Gokulam Kerala found the first breakthrough of the match after being awarded a penalty in the 16th minute against Churchill Brothers. As the pacy Ngangom Ronald Singh skilfully surged with the ball into the Churchill Brothers box, he was impeded and brought down by a mistimed challenge from the Lebanese Shadi Skaf. Gokulam Kerala skipper Sharif Mukhammad stepped up to take the resultant spot kick and calmly slotted the ball into the bottom left corner to give his side the advantage.

Churchill Brothers’ first big chance of the game fell the way of Bryce Miranda in the 21st minute, thanks to a sublime piece of control and deftly played through ball by Brazilian Guilherme Dos Santos which sent Miranda bearing down on goal. Miranda produced a fierce volley one on one with the keeper, but his effort was matched with a fantastic save from Gokulam goalkeeper Rakshit Dagar.

As Gokulam Kerala played to their slender one goal lead and began dominating proceedings with a high amount of possession, Churchill Brothers looked to end the first half strongly and created back to back chances in the 38th minute. First, midfielder Kingslee Fernandes tested Rakshit Dagar with a snapshot from inside the box, which was saved by Dagar without a fuss. A minute later, Nigerian Kenneth Ngwoke drew a fantastic reaction save from Dagar as his shot from outside the box took a deflection.

Gokulam Kerala nearly doubled their lead in added time in the first half. Midfielder Thahir Zaman produced a fantastic snapshot from an angle which beat Churchill Brothers goalkeeper Shilton Paul, but he was denied by the woodwork.

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