Kolkata: On an all-time league record of 20 matches unbeaten in a row, Gokulam Kerala FC are now just four points away from defending the title they won last season.
With just three games to go, only a colossal collapse would deny the Malabarians and coach Vincenzo Alberto Annese their second-ever I-League triumph.
Gokulam Kerala are six points clear of nearest rivals Mohammedan SC and could potentially become champions on Saturday. If the Black and White Brigade fail to win their match against Churchill Brothers on Friday evening, Gokulam would seal the title with a win over Rajasthan United 24 hours later.
The Malabarians have been a class apart this season. Although it was Mohammedan who made the better start, retaining top spot until Gameweek 10, Gokulam Kerala were always hot on their heels, getting better and better as the season progressed. Mohammedan lost steam heading into the championship stage. Andrey Chernyshov's side have won just two of their last six games, which has diminished their hopes of a maiden I-League title.
Annese's Gokulam, on the other hand, have emerged victorious in seven of the last eight. They were held to a 1-1 draw by Churchill Brothers last Saturday but responded in commanding fashion with a 4-0 thrashing of NEROCA FC three days later, that too without top-scorer Luka Majcen.
Now, only four points separate the Malabarians from becoming the first-ever club in the I-League era to successfully defend their title. Should they maintain their unbeaten run in the remaining three games, they could also become the first-ever invincible champions in NFL/I-League history.
There are more reasons for Gokulam Kerala fans to be excited about this season as the club is set to make its debut on the continental stage, featuring in the AFC Cup group stage in Kolkata later this month.
The Malabarians will be up against fellow Indian side ATK Mohun Bagan, Bangladeshi champions Bashundhara Kings and Maldivian champions Maziya. For coach Annese and his men, winning the league would be the perfect way to prepare for the Asian challenge. (ANI)