A football match was played out in Srinagar on December 26, in front of a sparse crowd at the TRC Turf Ground. With the number of fans (all of who were heavily screened) in the stands cut down to 2,000, the match, I-League club Real Kashmir FC’s first home tie of the season, can hardly be taken as a sign of normalcy in the strife torn, curfew shackled valley. But still, the 2-1 victory by the home side provided the relief and sense of normalcy that perhaps only football could provide for Kashmiris, even if it lasted only a little over 90 minutes.
Real Kashmir marked the first home game of the 2019-20 season with a victory over defending champions Chennai City FC under cold conditions at their home den, which has always been an impenetrable fortress for visiting sides. The valley, in the middle of a cold wave the past two weeks, and in the middle of curfew for the past three months after the abrogation of Article 370, needed something like this, say many fans who attended the match, celebrating what was a rare reason to rejoice.
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Local footballer Danish Farooq, who found the target in the 22nd minute, and Côte d'Ivoire player Bazzie Armand (27th) scored for Real Kashmir, while Chennai City cut the margin of defeat via Syed Suhail Pasha.
Real Kashmir, whose opening two games — against Gokulam Kerala FC (December 12) and Churchill Brothers (Dec 15) — were postponed due to heavy snowfall in the valley, jumped to seventh spot in the I-League standings with the win. They now have five points from three matches — they drew their away matches against East Bengal in Kolkata and TRAU FC in Imphal. The defending champions Chennai, who have started the season in indifferent form, dropped to eighth spot with five points from five games.
The home team were on the ball right from the start and after a couple of near chances, scored midway into the first half. Armand missed a great chance in the 13th minute after Kallum Higginbotham, following a brilliant run on the right, lofted it perfectly onto the path of Armand, who failed to give proper direction to the header. Chennai City goalkeeper Santana did his part with a couple of big saves to keep things at parity.
However, In the 22nd minute, Danish struck. It was Higginbotham who provided a brilliant cross and Danish headed it past Santana after rising above the Chennai defenders.
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From there on Kashmir gained control, with Higginbotham running the show from midfield, and moving up using the flanks. The second goal came in the 27th minute, again a cross from the flanks, and Armand did not make a mistake this time slotting the ball into the top corner to double Kashmir’s lead.
Chennai came back stronger after the break, and got an ideal start, scoring in the 48th minute. Pasha nodded home after Pravitto Raju flicked a bouncing ball towards him in the box.
Despite Chennai's initial surge, Kashmir again took control of the match and looked likely to score again, albeit some missed chances.
Real Kashmir's next match is at home against Mohun Bagan on January 5 while Chennai City will travel to Kozhikode for a game against Gokulam Kerala FC on January 9.
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