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Real Kashmir face defending champions Minerva Punjab in I-League debut match


Press Trust of India Panchkula
Real Kashmir FC's day of reckoning arrive Wednesday when they take on defending champions Minerva Punjab in their debut I-League match here.
The Kashmir Valley's first team to qualify for the I-League will get a first taste of country's top-flight competition in what is a clash between champions of first and second tiers of Indian club football.
The Srinagar-based Real Kashmir won the second division league to make it to the top tier while Minerva lifted their maiden crown of the previous season.
The Punjab side would begin as favourites in Wednesday's match at the Tau Devi Lal stadium but it will not be an easy outing for them against their opponents, coached by former Scottish international David Robertson who had played top flight football in his own country and had managerial level assignments in other countries.
The Real Kashmir team has been waiting for this moment since winning the second division league earlier this year and they have even roped in global sportswear major Adidas as their kit sponsor in a coup of sorts to boost their confidence.
They have nothing to lose from Wednesday's match as they will only gain experience as the league progresses further.
Robertson said his players were raring to go and experience the big moment.
"We have been waiting for five months for this day to come. We are excited to face the defending champions as well as we have to remember the home ground advantage they have. We have a young and confident team with experienced players as well as some local Kashmiri who have played in I-League before," he said at the pre-match press conference.
Minerva, on the other hand, are going into the game after playing a goal-less draw encounter against Goa's Churchill Brothers at the same venue.
Interestingly, it will be a battle between two British managers since Irishman Paul Munster will be at the helm for Minerva.
The hosts appeared rusty in their first outing against Churchill, although glimpses of the quality they posses did show up in the second half of that game.
Nigerian Philip Njoku had a good game in the midfield while Delhi boy Dilliram Sanyasi showed a lot of flair upon being brought in in the second half. But their star striker from last season's successful campaign, Ghanaian William Asiedu Opoku will need to take his game a notch up against Real Kashmir.
Real Kashmir go into the game with a run of four victories from their last five unbeaten competitive games. What would worry Minerva is that Real Kashmir have scored 12 goals in their last five games and they have managed only five in the same number of matches.
The visitors from Kashmir had their pre-season in Dortmund in Germany and then they played around five games in Mumbai. Robertson, who had played for top Scottish side like Rangers, has maintained the nucleus of the side which won the second division title and has also fortified it a little more with some new signing.
Prominent among them would be his 24-year old son Mason Robertson at centre back. He has also opted for height in attack with the 21-year-old 6-foot-7-inch Ivorian striker Gnohere Krizo.
Captain Loveday Enyinnaya of Nigeria will add solidity to the defence. The local Kashmiri players who might turn out to be heroes are winger Shahnawaz Bashir and forward Ifham Tariq Mir, who scored in the title-decider of the second division last season against Hindustan FC.

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First Published: Oct 30 2018 | 6:45 PM IST

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