Due to security issues in Srinagar, the match has been shifted to Delhi’s JLN Stadium.
East Bengal and Real Kashmir both might’ve realized their I-League title dreams sink in disappointing draws to Aizawl FC and Indian Arrows recently, but play for bragging rights at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Delhi on Thursday.
In the first I-League match being played at the capital this season, The Red and Gold Brigaders would want to keep latched onto second place by handing the Snow Leopards a loss. Real Kashmir will want to keep up their impressive form against top I-League sides with a win in what’s expected to be a thrilling encounter at Delhi. Ahead of the fixture, gaffers of both the sides’ met the media.
Dave Roberston was asked about whether Real Kashmir’s long breaks due to the postponement of matches is affecting their game. He explained, “It’s hard to say. Sometimes when you have a break, it’s good as a few knocks and injuries get cleared up. But we’re in a good momentum and getting the results. I can’t say we’ve played well against Indian Arrows last week. We took a lot of time to get into the game and got ourselves 2-1 up with minutes to go.
Usually, we manage to hang on but that wasn’t to be. We can’t really make excuses about it. But we’ve had a fantastic journey. We’re unbeaten away from home, we’ve only lost two games. There’s no better way to bounce back than against a team like East Bengal and in such a fantastic venue.” he further added.
When asked about whether not getting to play this game at home could be a disadvantage for the Snow Leopards, he said “No, we haven’t lost a game away from home since March 2017. So it’s better that we play away from home. It’s only bad for our supporters as it could’ve been our last home game of the season and our supporters have been fantastic. It’s only a disappointment for the guys who’ve supported us so vehemently throughout the season.”
Robertson was also questioned about whether East Bengal not coming to Srinagar for the game disappointed him. He stated I think there was disappointment that the game was snowed off a few weeks ago. But I think the support we’ve got behind us this season when we played Churchill and Mohun Bagan really got the enthusiasm of supporters.
We’ve exceeded expectations and it would’ve been nice for them to see a team like East Bengal. We feel for the supporters, who could’ve had 10 home games but it looks like we might only be getting eight. Hopefully next season, things will improve.” he opined.
Finally, he was questioned on his thoughts on his side not being given three points for the Minerva Punjab game. He explained, “I have no idea. My only focus is to get the team ready for the next game. The decision is on AIFF and they’ll decide what to do. It’s obviously disappointing not to play the game with one game snowed off and another with the circumstances that the club didn’t turn up. We have to see what the decision is, but if we don’t get the result tomorrow, the Minerva outcome doesn’t really matter.”
East Bengal comes into the game having last played on Monday, giving them only three days of rest. When asked whether this posses as an issue, Alejandro Menendez said, “When you play in less than three days between two matches, it’s not enough to get the highest quality from the team. This is even worse for the quality of football. But we’re fully motivated and have almost recovered from the last match. We’re ready to play and win tomorrow.”
The Spanish gaffer was questioned on whether shifting the match from Srinagar to New Delhi as the correct one. He said, “Of course, this is better for everyone. I think that now Srinagar is a war-plagued area. But now we’re playing in Delhi and all the players can only think about playing football without fearing about whether his life is under danger.”
Real Kashmir have the best defensive record in the I-League and when asked about how they’ve prepared to counter that, Menendez said, “Our gameplay is our best tool for tomorrow’s man. We are getting a lot of chances to score goals and if we play as a team as we’ve done for the last matches, we can overcome Real Kashmir’s defence.”
Finally, he was asked on whether he still believes his side can win the I-League title. Menendez was defiant in finishing with, “I think my team is a very good offensive team. But we’re also very well balanced defensively. Now we know it’s difficult to win the title, but we will fight till the end. That’s our mantra to fight till the end.”
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The Snow Leopards also do not have any absentees going into the game.
The Red and Gold Brigade do not have any major injury concerns at the moment.
Bilal (GK), Ravanan, Katebe, Loveday, Thapa, Surchandra, Ganie, Armand, Danish, Robertson, Krizo.
The match will kick-off at 2:00 PM, in the JLN Stadium. It will be live streamed by Hotstar and Jio TV.