Ahmedabad: Defending champion Gokulam Kerala FC, who are seeking their third consecutive title, take on first-timer Kickstart FC in what is expected to be a gripping finale of this season's Indian Womens Football League (IWL) 2023 at the TransStadia here on Sunday.
While Gokulam's reaching the final was on expected lines as they have topped the standings while Kickstart's progress was unexpected as they caused an upset by beating former champions Sethu FC in the semifinals.
The 2022-23 IWL, the sixth edition of the tournament, started last month with 16 teams, the highest number in the league's history, and now only two remain after 62 rigorous matches.
The two sides are heading into the final on the back of jubilant semifinal wins on Friday. While Kickstart surpassed a strong Sethu challenge 2-0, Gokulam Kerala came from a goal down to register a thumping 5-1 win over Eastern Sporting Union.
The Malabarians are now just one win away from their third consecutive IWL crown and will be aiming to continue their dominance.
Expressing his thoughts ahead of Sunday's key encounter, Gokulam head coach Anthony Andrews said they were expecting a tough fight in the final.
"I anticipate a tough challenge from Kickstart in the final. They have shown their strength by defeating former champions Sethu in the semifinal, which indicates that they are in good momentum. We expect a competitive match. We need to be prepared for their attacking ability and defensive solidity to ensure we can overcome their challenge," he said on Saturday.
The reigning champions have been in fine form throughout the campaign. With some of the most experienced stalwarts in their ranks like Ashalata Devi, Indumathi Kathiresan, Dangmei Grace and goal machine Sabitra Bhandari, they have established a formidable core of the team.
Revealing the atmosphere in the dressing room, Andrews added, "The mood in the dressing room ahead of the big game is fantastic. There's a sense of excitement and determination among the players. We have worked extremely hard to reach the final and everyone is aware of the importance of this match. We are all looking forward to the final and are confident in our abilities to perform at our best."
On the other hand, Kickstart FC made history by reaching their maiden IWL final. Led by skipper Dalima Chhibber, the team has delivered a memorable performance so far, finishing second in Group B before dispatching HOPS 2-1 in the quarterfinal.
In what was supposed to be a too-close-to-call semifinal, Kickstart secured a convincing 2-0 win over Sethu. First-half goals from Kenya forward Kioko Elizabeth Katungwa and Nepal midfielder Saru Limbu had them in the driving seat at the break, before they went on to keep Sethu at bay with some solid defending in the second half.
Kickstart were placed third in the Hero IWL last season, and ahead of this campaign, head coach Langam Chaoba Devi had affirmed that her side will not just aim for another podium finish, but the top prize. Standing between Kickstart and history are heavyweights Gokulam Kerala, and it promises to be a blockbuster of a clash at the TransStadia on Sunday evening.