Ahmedabad, May 15 (IANS) All eyes will be on the key clash between defending champions Gokulam Kerala and Odisha FC in the knockout stage of the Indian Women’s Football League (IWL) 2023 which will be played at various venues here on Tuesday.
While Gokulam will be the favourites to defend their title, former champions Sethu FC and Eastern Sporting Union to continue their match and maintain their chances of stopping the Gokulam juggernaut.
There’s no margin for error in the IWL 2023 as the knockout stage kicks off on Tuesday. Eight teams — Gokulam Kerala FC, Odisha FC, Sethu FC, Kickstart FC, East Bengal FC, HOPS FC, Eastern Sporting Union and Sports Odisha — are set to battle it out in the quarterfinals on Tuesday.
In the headline clash of the quarterfinals, reigning champions Gokulam Kerala FC will take on Odisha FC at the TransStadia on Tuesday. The Malabarians emerged as Group A toppers with 19 points (six wins, one draw) while the Bhubaneswar side finished third in Group B with 16 points (five wins, one draw, one loss).
“Since the end of the group stage, we have focused on maintaining our fitness levels and working on our tactics. We have been analysing our opponent’s strengths and weaknesses and developing strategies to counter them. The players have been training hard, and I am confident that we will be ready for the match,” Gokulam Kerala head coach Anthony Andrews on his side’s preparations ahead of the gripping quarterfinal fixture.
Andrews also spoke highly of their opponents. “Odisha FC have a solid squad with several experienced players, which makes them a tough opponent. We expect them to come out strong, so our team is preparing accordingly. We will have to be at our very best to compete with them and secure a victory.”
Meanwhile, Odisha head coach Crispin Chettri said it was a must-win game for them. “It’s a must-win game tomorrow. We have worked very hard to be here and brought a winning attitude to our game. Every match presents its own set of challenges. We are more focused on ourselves and will look to give our absolute best effort to win.”
Adding to his words, Chettri opened up on how his side trained during the three-day break. “We focused on improving our fitness, tactical awareness and developing team unity, along with assessing our team’s mental and physical health,” he said.
Sethu take on hopeful East Bengal
In fine form in their debut IWL 2023 season, East Bengal will face a tough challenge in the quarterfinals against former champions Sethu FC at the Shahibaug Police Stadium. The Tamil Nadu-based side finished their group-stage campaign at the summit of Group B and look determined to bring back the trophy they held aloft in 2018-19.
East Bengal have delivered a solid debut season, finishing in third place in Group A after a 1-0 win over HOPS FC on Friday. The Red and Gold Brigade have come a long way since their 2-8 hammering at the hands of Gokulam Kerala on their opening day, picking up 13 points in their next six games to secure a commendable quarter-final spot.
Sethu emerged toppers of a tightly-fought Group A. After five straight wins, they fended off challenges from Kickstart and Odisha to remain at the top of the table, drawing both games 0-0. The Madurai side are the only unbeaten side alongside Gokulam Kerala in the competition so far.
HOPS look to upset goal-hungry Kickstart
At the TransStadia, Kickstart FC will come up against HOPS FC on Tuesday. The team from Karnataka finished second in the Group B table. They registered 30 goals — the most by any team in their group and bagged five wins out of a possible seven.
Led by head coach Langam Chaoba Devi, Kickstart have also had a resurgent campaign as they went down 0-1 to Eastern Sporting Union in their first game before picking up five wins and a draw, while conceding just one goal.
On the other hand, the Delhi-based HOPS stood fourth in Group A as they made their way to an unprecedented knockout stage in their debut Hero IWL season. Ahead of their historic clash, head coach Sanjay Singh spoke about his side’s preparations.
“We have a healthy respect for our opponents. However, our team is known for its toughness and fighting spirit and we plan to play to our strengths without any pressure.”
At the Shahibaug Police Stadium, Sports Odisha will face the first IWL champions Eastern Sporting Union. For Sports Odisha, a goalless draw with Misaka United on Friday was enough to secure second place in Group A. Eastern Sporting Union ended up fourth in Group B with five wins out of seven, including a dramatic come-from-behind 3-2 victory over Lords FA on Saturday.
Sports Odisha head coach Paromita Sit expressed her opinion before Tuesday’s match. “We focused more on tactics in preparation for our quarter-final game. We are in good shape and focussed to win against Eastern Sporting Union.”
On the other hand, head coach Lourembam Ronibala Devi admitted that there’s a bit of pressure as former champions, but that will only benefit them.
“It is a little pressure, but we will value our experience and give our best,” she said.