After starting its historic I-League journey with a win against defending champions Minerva Punjab FC, the Kashmir based professional football club, Real Kashmir FC is all set to play its home debut match of I-League against Goan side Churchill Brothers at TRC astroturf ground here on Tuesday.
It will be first time ever that an I-League match would be played in J&K, which was possible only after Real Kashmir qualified for the league earlier this year.
Nicknamed Snow Leopards, Real Kashmir would be playing their first I-League match on their home turf against Churchill Brothers under chilly weather conditions. It is apt to say that Snow Leopards would be playing in their own den with snowy winds blowing around and favoring them against a side that is coming all over from warm shores of Goa.
The recent snowfall followed by dip in temperatures in the Valley is going to be advantageous for the home side on one side, and on the other side it is going to be a huge challenge for the visitors. Both the sides had a couple of training sessions with Churchill side looking visibly uncomfortable. Even the press briefing before the match day was mostly focused on weather conditions.
Churchill Brothers Romanian coach Petre Gigiu accepted the fact that in the present weather conditions, it is going to be difficult for his side and at the same time it presents an advantage for the home side in tomorrow's game.
"This is difficult for us and very good for the hosts. It is very cold here and being away from home for so long makes it extra difficult. We are yet to play our home tie and have been on journey away from home in varying climate conditions. That is big plus for hosts," Petre Gigiu said. "We are here to give our best and hosts can expect fight from our side," he added.
Churchill's Lebanese player Hussein El Dor said that Kashmir brings in European flavour into the national league.
"I am used to these types of weather conditions back in Lebanon and have played in similar conditions for quite long. Kashmir brings in European flavour to the national league and it is never seen before atmosphere in I-League," he said.
"We came here for reason and we will try our best to deliver on the expected lines and upset the host's momentum gained after winning start. Being professional teaches us that whatever condition or situation we have to face it and extreme weather conditions is no excuse," he added.
Hosts Real Kashmir FC's Scottish coach David Robertson said that it is going to be a historic day for the Kashmir football and Real Kashmir as well, as the League is coming to Kashmir for the first time.
"It is going to be a historic day tomorrow as first ever I-League match would be played in Kashmir. It is going to be huge and we are all focused on it. Last weekend was big but tomorrow it is going to be even bigger. I am very excited about it and I hope lots of people would show up and support us," he said.
Real Kashmir's Nigerian skipper, Loveday Enyinnaya said that he is now used to playing in conditions like this.
"I have played in North East and was with Shillong FC for four seasons. Weather conditions there are similar to these and I am getting used to it. We will try to carry on the momentum that we gained from opening win against Minerva Punjab FC," Loveday said.
It was Gnohere Krizo's 74th-minute strike that helped Real Kashmir register their maiden win in the I-League. The fairytale journey that had started after clinching the Second division league in May continued at Panchkula. The Snow Leopards now make their home debut in I-League against the Goan giants.
Real Kashmir had an impressive debut in the I-League. Taking the field in a 3-5-2 formation, David Robertson's men fought neck to neck against the reigning champions and eventually picked up full points. Had they been a little more prolific in front of the goal, they could have notched a couple more.
Now the debutants are up against Churchill Brothers who are yet to register a win in the I-League, it will be an interesting contest to watch. After managing a 0-0 draw against Minerva, Churchill once again dropped points against Chennai City FC as they were held to 2-2 draw.
While Real Kashmir will eye yet another win at home, Churchill Brothers will hope to pick up at least a point from this tough away fixture.