The second match of the opening day of the 13th Hero I-League feature hosts Gokulam Kerala FC take on the ‘Orange of Manipur’ Neroca FC at the EMS Corporation stadium in Kozhikode, Kerala.

After finishing seventh and tenth in their first two I-League campaigns, Gokulam Kerala will be hoping to hit the ground running and get their season underway on a positive note by registering a home win.

The Malabarians have made several acquisitions over the summer, including the re-appointment of Fernando Santiago Varela as head coach. They have also roped in five players from their opponents this weekend, including the likes of Sebastian Thangmuansang, Naocha Singh and Malemngamba Meitei. Ugandan forward Henry Kisekka has also returned to the club, following a spell with Mohun Bagan last season.

Speaking ahead of the match, Santiago Varela, head coach, Gokulam Kerala said, “For us it is a matter of pride to be able to represent our fans. It is our obligation to put on a good show for them and for them to enjoy watching the team play.”

He also weighed in on Gokulam’s pre-season performances, which culminated with the club winning its first-ever silverware of note, the Durand Cup, and following up with a resilient run to the semi-finalsin the Sheikh Kamal International Club Cup in Bangladesh.

“We had a good outing during Durand Cup and we also established ourselves in the Sheikh Kamal Tournament against prestigious teams. We are aware of having created expectations, but we must be humble and know that we must always improve.I hope and wish that people enjoy our game and be able to help Gokulam consolidate in Indian football”, he added.

Neroca, on the other hand, will be led by Gift Raikhan at the helm. They have made significant strides in the transfer market, having roped in veteran Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Marvin Devon Phillip and his compatriot, 22 year old defender Taryk Sampson.

They will however be missing some key players from last season like Katsumi Yusa, Singham Subash Singh and Malengbam Meetei among others, but by and large have the nucleus still intact and with their new exciting foreign signings like Malian Boubacar Diara upfront, can prove to be a handful for the hosts.

Speaking ahead of the match, club Captain Marvin Devon Phillip said, “The preparation has been great over the last couple months under the guidance of coach Gift Raikhan. We have a youthful bunch and we are all eager to get underway on Saturday. It’s going to be a tough season but we all set for this challenge.”

The last meeting between the two sides resulted in a cagey affair, with Marcus Joseph nicking it for the Malabarians with an 82-minute-winner. If that is anything to go by, the stage is set for yet another tight and exciting affair.