Odisha FC thrash I-League champions Gokulam Kerala 3-1 to book AFC Cup berth Football News

Super Cup champions Odisha FC beat I-League winners Gokulam Kerala FC 3-1 in a play-off match to seal a spot in the 2023-24 AFC Cup group stage in Kozhikode on Saturday. The result gave Odisha FC, who finished sixth in the Indian Super League, a chance to make their debut in the second-tier continental club competition after an outstanding two weeks at the end of the domestic season.

Odisha FC beat Gokulam Kerala to seal AFC Cup spot (Twitter)

In the ISL, they played in fits and starts, never really putting together a good enough run form to really challenge for the title.

But in the last two weeks, Odisha achieved tremendous success by laying siege to Kozhikode. After winning the Super Cup title, Saturday’s play-off victory put the continental cherry on the glorious cake.

It did not take long for Odisha to assert its authority over the game. He was quick on the ball and even more authoritative without it.

However, Odisha didn’t get the first chance. Gokulam, who played most of the game as a counter-attacking unit, attacked them through a Tahir Zaman corner, which was curled perfectly for Amino Bouba in the six-yard area. The Cameroonian placed his header high and wide.

Soon Gokulam had to pay for its mistakes in more ways than one.

In the 18th minute a seemingly innocuous throw-in on the left touchline left Nand Kumar dummied, Victor Romero spun and Diego Mauricio one-on-one. The Brazilian scored his 20th goal in all competitions to give Odisha the lead.

It was a goal that was built on ingenuity, but it also exposed a Gokulam defense that had been rendered inactive.

Suddenly Odisha started to rampage, Mauricio, Mavimingthanga and Romero combined to create a host of chances and keep the Gokulam defense on their toes. Romero came close just before the half-hour mark, curling a free kick over the crossbar from a narrow angle on the left.

In the 31st minute, Mauricio scored his second goal, dribbling as well as bulldozing down the left flank of Gokulam to double the lead.

The second goal awoke Gokulam, waking them from their inebriated slumber to something resembling football.

Suddenly, Zaman and Sergio Mendigutxia were playing combinations and throwing the Odisha defense off their game. When the goal came in the 36th minute, it volleyed over Farshad Noor’s head, Zaman doing all the work on the right before slotting home a perfect cross.

A few minutes later Zaman had a chance to equalize himself, reaching squarely to meet a cross from the left. His effort was high though. It was a relief for Odisha that half time arrived just as the momentum of the game had changed, giving them a chance to take a breather and reset as they were leading 2-1.

And reset he did, moving into the lead again. Almost immediately, Romero took another chance, and again, the frame of the goal proved to be his undoing, this time denied by the post.

It won’t make any difference. An inexplicable pull from Pawan Kumar brought down Diego Mauricio on the edge of the box in the 52nd minute, giving Odisha a penalty and a chance to restore their two-goal lead.

Mauricio didn’t miss. His 22nd goal of the season was enough for Odisha to regain momentum and seal the game.

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