I-League: Real Kashmir, East Bengal look to keep title hopes alive (Preview)

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New Delhi, Feb 27 (IANS) Forced out of their home ground due to ongoing Indo-Pak tensions in the wake of the Pulwama terror attack, debutant Real Kashmir FC will take on Quess East Bengal (QEB) in a must-win Hero I-League clash at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, here on Thursday.

The match is important for both the teams to keep title hopes alive. Although both the teams have recently fallen behind leaders Chennai City FC in the title race, options are still open if they win all their last three games, and Chennai drop points.

The match, the first for this edition of the country’s top flight football league to be played in the national capital, will kick off at 2 p.m.

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

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Both teams come off a draw in their respective previous games and need to up their game significantly.

The ‘home team’ Real Kashmir 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 QEB are placed second from the same number of games and with the same number of points as Real Kashmir but are ahead on goal difference.

David Robertson, Real Kashmir coach, has been effective and has strategically used his players, seeking creative solutions. Striker Krizo and the likes of Kofi Tetteh and Mason Robertson have proved productive.

Robertson who started off in deep defence has shown a keen eye for goal and has hit the post four times, so far.

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With a different ambiance in Delhi, Kashmir might be able to dampen the confidence of QEB players, compounded with the fact that they are one of the best defensive sides in the tournament.

THe Real Kashmir coach said, “We are in a good momentum, getting the results, playing well. Both 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 Garcia has played some good percentage, professional football, with each player executing his given role to the best of his ability.

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The coach has displayed sound tactical knowledge and seems to be getting the best out of his squad.

East Bengal head coach Alejandro said, “When you play again within 72 hours, it is not enough to get high quality from players, but we are motivated and have almost recovered from the last match and are ready to play tomorrow.”

QEB 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 the game.

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

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

–IANS

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