Real Kashmir, East Bengal face-off in fight to remain in I-League title race

The I-League will move to Delhi for the first time this season with Real Kashmir and East Bengal fighting to stay in the title race.

Jawaharlal Nehru plays host to Delhi Dynamos in the Indian Super League.   -  ISL/SPORTZPICS

In what is a crucial must-win clash for both the teams to keep their I-League title hopes alive, Real Kashmir takes on East Bengal at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi,on Thursday.

Although both the teams have recently fallen behind leader Chennai City FC in the title race, all options are still open to both teams if they win all their last three games, and if Chennai drop points in its last two matches.

READ | EB’s Jobby, Aizawl’s Kareem suspended for ugly spats

The country’s top flight football league will move to the National Capital for the first time this season.

ClubMatches playedWinsDrawsLossesGFGAGDPoints
1. Chennai City18124243241940
2. East Bengal17103432181433
3. Real Kashmir1796221101133

The decision to host the game in Delhi was taken at the AIFF League Committee Meeting at Football House in Delhi on Monday, after Real Kashmir informed in writing that it wanted to play the tie against East Bengal on February 28 at a neutral venue.

Both teams are coming off a draw in their respective previous games and need to up their game significantly, given the important nature of the clash.

The ‘home team’ Real Kashmir now has 33 points from 17 games and maintained its unbeaten record on the road as it stole a crucial point against Indian Arrows following the 2-2 draw at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar three days back.

East Bengal and Real Kashmir played out a 1-1 draw in its previous league encounter in Kolkata.   -  AIFF MEDIA


The visitor is placed second from the same number of games and with the same number of points as Real Kashmir (33) but is ahead on goal difference.

David Robertson, the Real Kashmir coach, has been very effective and has strategically used his players, seeking creative solutions. Striker Gnohere Krizo and the likes of Kofi Tetteh and Mason Robertson have proved effective. Robertson, who started off in deep defence, has shown a keen eye for goal and scored four goals so far.

-Robertson focused on football-

With a different ambiance in Delhi, Kashmir might be able to affect the confidence of EB players, compounded with the fact that it is one of the best defensive sides in the tournament. 

Robertson said, "We are in a good momentum, getting the results, playing well. Both the teams want to play and win. Fantastic journey, unbeaten away from home, we are happy. No better way to keep the benchmark by playing against East Bengal, particularly at JLN Stadium."

Robertson expressed disappointment at Minerva Punjab’s no-show for its I-League game in Srinagar in the aftermath of the Pulwama terror attack.

"No idea about what is happening with the Minerva clash. It’s in the hands of the AIFF and they will make the decision," he said.

"It was disappointing not to play the game (Minerva). There was a game which was snowed off and then there was on game where the team didn’t show up. But then you just focus on the matches ahead,” he added.

READ | Emotional Mehtab set to bid adieu as Bagan takes on Arrows

In the process, the two sides go back to where it all began for them in this season’s league campaign. In the first game between the two, both teams played out a draw.

Jobby Justin is East Bengal's top-scorer with nine league goals.   -  AIFF MEDIA


-East Bengal fully motivated-

On the other hand, the visiting side under Spanish coach Alejandro Garcia has played some good percentage, professional football, with each player executing his given role to the best of his ability. The coach has displayed sound tactical knowledge and seems to be getting the best out of his squad of players.

Alejandro said, "When you play again in a short span of time less than 72 hours, it is not enough to get high quality from our players, but we are fully motivated and almost recovered from the last match and ready to play tomorrow."

EB has slipped in the league title race of late, following back-to-back stalemates at home, and would also miss the league’s most prolific Indian striker Jobby Justin, who is suspended interimly.

Mexican striker Enrique Esqueda is in good form, however, and EB will depend a lot on him on Thursday.

The match is as good as a semifinal clash as it could decide whether East Bengal will ensure title contention or Real Kashmir would once again look to topple Chennai City FC on the points table.

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