I-League 2018-19: Real Kashmir stuns champion Minerva Punjab

While the result left coach David Robertson and his players ecstatic, the heads totting the stands at the Tau Devi Lal Stadium also applauded the visiting team, moments after it humbled the fancied opponents in its own den.

Real Kashmir FC begins its I-League campaign with a win against Minerva Punjab.   -  Special Arrangement

Real Kashmir FC on Wednesday stunned defending champion Minerva Punjab FC in a sensational start to its maiden I-League campaign, taking the first step towards realising the beginners’ dream of making the ‘Paradise on Earth’ a “paradise for football".

The first team from the Valley to play in the country’s top-flight, Real Kashmir FC scored the game’s only goal through Gnohere Krizo’s 74th-minute strike, giving the rival goalkeeper no chance to stop the ball that was travelling in great speed.

While the result left coach David Robertson and his players ecstatic, the heads totting the stands at the Tau Devi Lal Stadium also applauded the visiting team, moments after it humbled the fancied opponents in its own den.

READ: IND and SAFF members exit Saudi-led SWAFF

The emergence of Real Kashmir and its elevation to the I-League is the most fascinating story of Indian football in recent times. Formed three years ago, Real Kashmir last season won the second division league to get promoted into the top flight.

Living up to its coach’s assertion on the eve of the game, Real Kashmir did give the holder a run for its money. Real Kashmir had a chance to make it 2-0 four minutes after breaking the deadlock, but Minerva Punjab will be kicking itself as it had a bright start to the second-half, but failed to make its chances count.

It was a tight affair and Minerva Punjab FC paid for its profligacy in front of goal. Minerva Punjab made two changes to its starting lineup that drew 0-0 against Churchill Brothers. Nongdamba Naorem and Manandeep Singh missed out a spot in the starting XI and they were replaced by Makan Chothe and Kouame Alexandre.

ALSO READ: Neroca aims to extend dominance over Gokulam Kerala

Robertson fielded his side in a 3-5-2 formation. He had his son Mason Robertson, Goan Brian Mascarenhas and local boy Muhammad Hammad to bolster his defence at the start of the game.

Other Local Kashmiris who made the starting lineup were midfielders Farhan Ganie and Danish Farooq. The six ft seven inches Ivorian Gnohere Krizo was the lone striker upfront with Bilal manning the Kashmir woodwork.

Minerva’s Ghanaian forward William Opoku had the first good chance of the game just before the quarter of an hour mark, when an excellent ball from Amandeep, from inside the Minerva half, found Opoku in the clear in the Kashmir box with a defender on his shoulder.

ALSO READ: I-League clubs register record attendance in encouraging start to season

Opoku trapped and fired only for Hero of the Match Bilal to bring about the first of his many good saves on the day to deny Minerva the lead.

Opoku combined well with Makan Chothe on a couple of occasions, but the youngster was once caught offside and on the other occasion took too much time with the ball. It finished the half with a couple of corners, from one of which defender Lancine Toure connected with a good header from close, but Bilal was up to it again.

Minverva’s sense of urgency was evident at the beginning of the second half as in the first three minutes they had two excellent chances to score. In the first, Ivorian Alexandre’s powerful shot from inside the box was tipped over by Bilal and hit the bar and then Opoku’s powerful drive from outside the box met with another save by Bilal.

ALSO READ: I-League: Mahesh brace gives Lajong derby win over Aizawl

Munster rang in the changes quick and fast, bringing in youngsters Nongdamba Naorem, Dilliram Sanyasi and Hitova Ayemi to inject more pace and flair into the game, but the Kashmir defence held solid.

Then, in a subtle change of tactics, Robertson brought in midfielder Vicky Meitei in place Hammad, bolstering his midfield for a defender.

The move paid dividends as in the 73rd minute, quite against the run of play, off a free kick inside the Minerva half, Krozi got hold of the ball inside the Minerva box, turned and unleashed a powerful drive, which beat Minerva goalie Bhaskar Roy at the near post.