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Real Kashmir defy big-match nerves for historic I-League win

Real Kashmir became the first team in I-League history to defeat the reigning champions on debut

Playing their first ever match in the I-League, Real Kashmir may have been expected to succumb to early jitters, but 20 minutes into their clash against defending champions Minerva Punjab, head coach David Robertson knew it was going to be his team's day. 

"We knew that the I-League would be a different challenge than what we had been used to in the second division," Robertson told ESPN.  "After the first 20 minutes we knew what we were up against. Minerva had a lot of chances but they weren't clear cut chances. But we needed just one chance and we got it."

That chance came in the second half, as Krizo shrugged off the attentions of Lancine Toure and smacked a low shot past Bhaskar Roy to usher in a new era for Kashmir football.

Their first match in India's top flight, their first goal, and subsequently their first three points in the league, making them just the fifth team to win their I-League debut game after emerging victorious in the second division the previous season.

"Once we got our goal I was very confident that we were going to win. If there is one thing about these boys it is that they are fighters. They have a never give up spirit. They are tough and very difficult to break down."

Robertson now feels opposing teams will be more wary of Real Kashmir, particularly when they visit their home ground in Srinagar. 

"We have a run of six home games after this. When teams come to Srinagar it is going to be difficult for them. It is going to be cold and the crowd will be our 12th man," he said.

"Now that we got a win, I'm expecting a lot more fans to come to the TRC ground to watch. After the whistle it wasn't just the players on the field, even the substitutes, the standbys in the crowd and even the ownership group (were all celebrating)."

More than the result itself, Robertson is simply pleased that Real Kashmir have announced themselves to the wider footballing community in India. 

"The most important thing is that people will take us seriously. They won't just think that we are a side that has just come up from the second division. Now they will probably watch our videos and check out our players.

"A lot of teams coming up from the lower divisions take time to get their first win. We have been able to get those three points in our first game. So that would have calmed a lot of the nerves."

Real Kashmir's goalkeeper Bilal Khan was named player of the match

According to former India international Henry Menezez, how far Real Kashmir go this season, and in Indian football, will be down to how well the management can latch on to this opportunity. 

"What is important is that this team can become a brand, and the management should be ready to explore and give a free hand to the coaches too. If that combination works well with the management, who can add support and strengthen the team mid-season, and keep the players upbeat, once they start winning, their confidence will grow," Menezez said. 

"They showed [today] that they can play."

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