India’s top football competition will make its debut in the Valley on Tuesday when a confident Real Kashmir, who made this possible, host Churchill Brothers in their maiden home game of the I-League.
Real Kashmir got their campaign off to a dream start, stunning defending champions Minerva Punjab FC in their first-ever game in the country’s top-flight.
The match will be played at the TRC turf ground.
In their opener, Real Kashmir were helped by a strike from Ivorian striker Gnohere Krizo.
Churchill Brothers have done well to remain unbeaten in their two games, played at two different corners of the country.
They drew goalless against Minerva and then had a fighting 2-2 draw against table toppers Chennai City, which should give them confidence going into the game.
David Robertson, Real Kashmir’s Scottish coach knows that his side will have to improve a lot from their display against Minerva.
In the pre-match press conference, he said, “It’s going to be another day in history as we are playing our first home match. My team is excited as well as focused.”
Commenting on the conditions a couple of days after the valley witnessed the season’s first snowfall, Robertson said, “It will be difficult for both the teams because of the weather conditions. Like Churchill, we also have players from all over the country.”
The hosts looked solid in defence with their Nigerian captain Loveday Enyinnaya, coach’s son Mason Robertson, Zambian Aaron Katebe and Dharmaraj Ravanan bringing in a lot of composure and experience.
Krizo is also a constant threat inside the opponents’ penalty box with his height but will need good support at some stage.
Robertson has not fielded the likes of Nadong Bhutia and Ritwik Kumar Das upfront. The duo scored eight goals between them in their successful second division campaign last year and the Scotsman might look to get them in at some stage to support Krizo.
Churchill’s Romanian coach Petre Gigiu sounded pragmatic.
“It’s a difficult game for sure. My team is tired but we will try to play good tomorrow. It will be my first game in Kashmir and we want to play better football for our spectators and Indian football.”
He added, “It’s not a surprise for me because I have coached in such weather conditions before in Nigeria. It’s going to be fun for the team. Let’s hope for the best for us and our opponents.”
Churchill seem to be settling down as a squad under the new coach as they played better in their second game than they did in their first.
Gambian Dawda Cessay is the bulwark of the side in central midfield and showed glimpses of what he can do against Chennai in the last game. Clencio Pinto who came on as a substitute also gave a lot of attacking impetus to the Goan side.
Libyan Hussein Eldor and Serbian Nenad Novakovic have also been putting in good solid shifts at the heart of the Churchill defence and so has keeper James Kithan.
However, former East Bengal striker Willis Plaza from Trinidad & Tobago will have to get on the scoresheet sooner rather than later.