Kerala Blasters FC will begin their 2023-24 campaign with a game against fellow Kerala side Gokulam Kerala in a Group C match of the Durand Cup at the Mohun Bagan Ground in Kolkata on Sunday. 

The yellow army who sport one of the biggest fanbases in the country will look to end their wait for silverware after fielding a strong team for the Durand Cup. The Kochi-based outfit have come close to winning the Indian Super League on three occasions but have fumbled on the last step. 

Under Ivan Vukoamanovic, the club has qualified for the knockout stages of the ISL in back-to-back seasons for the first time and there is optimism that the Serbian is the man to lead the Blasters to their first trophy. 

The Durand Cup has a history of seeing winners from Kerala with FC Kochin being the first team to win the competition in 1997 before Gokulam Kerala repeated the feat in 2019. 

Being the most popular team in the state, the Kerala Blasters FC are due a trophy and will look at the Durand Cup as a good chance of ending the wait. 

The yellow army will have added motivation after a disappointing end to last season where they lost to rivals Bengaluru FC in the ISL Knockout Match before failing to advance to the knockout stage of the Super Cup.

Bengaluru FC will lock horns with the Blasters in Group C again, but their focus would be on dealing with a more immediate rival in Gokulam Kerala. 

The two teams have never faced each other at the national level in senior football and the game would present an opportunity for either side to gain supremacy as the best team in the state. With the margin for error almost negligible in the Durand Cup group stage and with Bengaluru FC waiting in the wings for both sides, it is almost a must-win game for both teams. 

The Blasters have seen changes in their squad for the upcoming season with key players like Sahal Abdul Samad, Prabhsukhan Singh Gill, Jessel Carneiro, Ivan Kaliuzhnyi and Harmanjor Khabra depart. 

The club have done well though to bring in reinforcements especially in defence with experienced defender Pritam Kotal joining along with Prabir Das and Naocha Singh. On the attacking front Ishan Pandita became the latest player to join and will be in action in the Durand Cup for the Blasters.

Gokulam on the other hand will be looking to improve after they failed in their I-League title defence last season. Promotion to the ISL will be on their agenda as they look to regain their title in the upcoming I-League season. A game against the Blasters thus presents them with a perfect opportunity to make a statement not just about their quality but also about being a force in Kerala football. 

These different plots and subplots thus make this a mouthwatering prospect for the football fans in Kerala who now have two clubs competing in a top competition. It’s also a big development for Indian football as the foundations of a new rivalry could be laid on Sunday. 

As for the Kerala Blasters FC, all the focus will be on making a winning start to their quest for silverware, something that has eluded them all along. Maybe, this is their season.