Debutants Real Kashmir FC, take on East Bengal in the ongoing 12th edition of the I-League at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi on Thursday, February 28 in what is a crucial must-win clash for both the teams, if they want to keep their title hopes alive.
Although both the teams have recently fallen behind leaders 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 City FC drop points.
The match, which will be the first for this edition of the country’s top flight football league to be played in the National Capital, will kick off at 2pm IST.
The decision to host the game in Delhi was taken at the AIFF League Committee Meeting at Football House in Delhi on Monday, February 25, after Real Kashmir FC informed in writing that they wanted to play their 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 FC now have 33 points from 17 games and maintained their unbeaten record on the road as they stole a crucial point against Indian Arrows following the 2-2 draw at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar three days back.
Visitors East Bengal are placed second from the same number of games and with the same number of points as Real Kashmir FC (33) but are ahead on goal difference.
David Robertson, the Real Kashmir FC coach, has been very effective and has strategically used his players, seeking creative solutions. Striker 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.
With a different ambiance in Delhi, Real Kashmir FC might be able to affect the confidence of East Bengal players, compounded with the fact that they are one of the best defensive sides in the tournament.
Real Kashmir FC coach, David 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.”
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.
On the other hand, the ‘visiting’ side under Spanish coach Alejandro Menendez 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.
East Bengal head coach 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.”
East Bengal have 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 for Thursday’s game.
Enrique Esqueda, the Mexican striker, is in good form, however, and East Bengal will depend a lot on him on Thursday.
The match is as good as a semi-final clash as it could decide whether East Bengal will ensure title contention or Real Kashmir FC would once again look to topple Chennai City FC on the points table.