The I-League second division final round will get underway from Thursday with Hindustan FC, Real Kashmir, Ozone and TRAU will compete in a single round-robin competition at Bengaluru's FSV Arena. The group winner will earn promotion to next season's I-League.
The opener will see TRAU take on Hindustan FC at 1.30 pm.
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The clash, even at this early stage, is liable to represent a crucial fixture in the title aspirations of both teams. A defeat on an opening day would leave either side facing a mountainous climb.
While TRAU surprised many by reaching the final round in its maiden second Division League appearance. Hindustan FC, who finished at bottom of its qualification group last season, showed a miraculous turn around to earn the qualification as the best second-placed team.
The physical strength of Hindustan players, as well as the quick counter attacks they have, could prove a dangerous attribute to tackle for TRAU.
Among TRAU's attacking riches is Nigerian forward Princewill Olariche Emeka, who could torment Hindustan's defenders if he manages to recreate his form.
Hindustan, on the other hand, typically take a very conservative approach to its matches. It prefers to sit deep, stay organized, hit on the counter when it can and take its chances in a low-scoring affair.
Hindustan's Nitesh Chandra helped Vikrant Sharma's side to finish unbeaten in qualifying round, so there should be plenty of confidence and some experience within him heading into the final round.
High-scoring Ozone has Kashmir in sight
In the second match of the day, an attack-minded Ozone will entertain Real Kashmir at 5.45 pm.
While Ozone FC was expected to qualify for the final round, Real Kashmir defied odds to topple a tricky group that included the likes of Hindustan FC, Delhi United and Lonestar Kashmir FC.
David Booth's Ozone has shown just how explosive it could be with 19 goals during a nine-game unbeaten streak in qualifying round before falling to Kerala Blasters reserves 1-0 in its final qualifying round game.
While Ozone's squad boasts of Indian players with I-League experience, all eyes will be on Brazilian goal-scorer Robert De Souza. The 26-year-old has been in great form in the qualifying round with a league-high eight goals.
Kashmir's defence will be put to the test against the high quality of Ozone, although the David Robertson-coached side has players of its own to hurt any side on a given day.
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