Panchukula: Real Kashmir FC Wednesday stunned defending champions Minerva Punjab FC in a sensational start to their 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 their own den.
The emergence of Real Kashmir and their 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 their coach’s assertion on the eve of the game, Real Kashmir did give the holders a run for their money.
Real Kashmir had a chance to make it 2-0 four minutes after breaking the deadlock, but Minerva Punjab will be kicking themselves as they had a bright start to the second-half but failed to make their chances count.
It was a tight affair and Minerva Punjab FC paid for their profligacy in front of goal.
Minerva Punjab made two changes to their starting line-up 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.
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 line-up were midfielders Farhan Ganie and Danish Farooq. The 6 ft 7 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.
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. They 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 in 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.
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.