Begin typing your search...
Real Kashmir looks to continue dream run
Mohun Bagan and East Bengal will enter as favourites but the limelight will be on Real Kashmir in the semi-finals of the 129th Durand Cup here on Wednesday.
East Bengal will take on Gokulam Kerala followed by Real Kashmir's clash with Mohun Bagan in the double-header at the Salt Lake Stadium.
The summit clash is slated for Saturday. Seven months after it had beaten it 2-1 in an impressive debut season in the I-League, Real Kashmir will be meeting the Mariners at the same venue.
The Snow Leopards, which finished third in the debut I-League season, did not have a pre-season back home due to the restrictions in the valley following the revocation of the state's special status.
The Real Kashmir players were cut off from their family due to the communication clampdown in the valley.
Still, the David Robertson-coached 29-member contingent, with five players from Kashmir and one from Jammu, kept its date with the Durand Cup. It had one practice session before its season-opener against reigning I-League champion Chennai City FC, which had come with a reserve side.
"Real Kashmir is all about being against the odds and coming up trumps. We play with heart and soul," coach Robertson said.
"A lot of players had come from long journeys from Africa, Europe and wherever... Regardless of whom you play against, to do that and on the first day or the second day of seeing each other is an incredible achievement."
Its situation was aptly summed up by Chennai City FC coach Akbar Nawas who drew a parallel with war-ravaged Iraq's Asian Cup triumph in 2007.
"If you remember Iraq won the Asian Cup by having similar circumstances. So that means when you have such circumstances, it might motivate you," Nawas had said after its 0-1 loss.
Real Kashmir edged out Indian Super League franchise FC Goa on goal difference after both finished with seven points. While its star striker Danish Farooq has been reliable up front, it's the defence that has stood out.
Its 21-year-old goalkeeper from Sikkim, Phurba Lachenpa, has stood tall under the bar and is yet to concede a goal in three matches.
But its real big test will be when it takes on the 16-time champion Mohun Bagan, a Spanish-flavoured side coached by Kibu Vicuna.
The Mariners have recruited four Spaniards with Salva Chamorro spearheading the attack, while Francisco Gonzalez and Joseba Beitia will be in charge of the midfield, with Morante holding the backline.
In the first semi-final, East Bengal will be hot favourite against Gokulam Kerala, even as the Malabarians have been in rampaging form having scored the maximum goals -- 11 from three matches.