REAL KASHMIR FC made history today, becoming the first club from Kashmir to play in a major national level club tournament final.
The Snow Leopards achieved this feat today by overcoming Mohammedan Sporting - known as the Black Panthers - at the semi-finals.
The match, played behind closed doors at Kolkata's Salt Lake Stadium, saw the visitors from North taking on the local favourites in a bid to reach the grand finale of the 123rd edition of the historic IFA Shield, one of Asia's oldest surviving tournaments.
It was Mohammedan Sporting who started as the more aggressive side and early on they created some solid opportunities. But the stout defending of Mason Robertson and Mithun Samanta's reliable goalkeeping helped RKFC keep the score level.
About half an hour in, Real Kashmir started making their own probing offensive moves and they uncovered a fatal flaw in the Mohammedan defence: their defenders were failing to mark the opponent attackers properly. The first half ended goalless but RKFC head coach David Robertson was taking notes and his revised strategies started to bear fruit in the second half.
Near the hour mark, just as Real Kashmir's superior stamina was starting to have an effect on the game, came the break-through. Abhas Thapa sent a cross from the left that Lukman converted with a powerful header. The ball rattled the post before going into the net.
Minutes later, Lukman doubled the lead. Mohammedan Sporting, a goal down, had started playing with a higher line of defence in search of a quick equalizer. A long ball from Sena Ralte saw Lukman run after it and Mohammedan defenders temporarily froze on the spot expecting the linesman to call an offside. But the flag stayed down and Lukman left the entire Mohammedan defence behind to score again.
After this, Mohammedan Sporting tried to get back in the game, but they were now being outrun by Real Kashmir players and seemed unable to keep up to that pace.
Lukman completed his hat-trick with just a couple of minutes of regulation time to spare. A gem of a shot from Pratesh Sirodkar found Lukman at the right spot and the latter duly found the net, sealing RKFC's victory.
Then in added time Mason Robertson made it 4-0 just for good measure, heading in Sena Ralte's corner kick.
You can watch the whole match right here, courtesy the Xtra Time Bangla youtube channel.
With this commanding victory, Real Kashmir are now the firm favourites to win their maiden IFA Shield title. In the final, which will take place on Saturday (19th December), RKFC will face George Telegraph.
Established in 1925, George Telegraph SC play in the Calcutta Football League. In the semi-finals, they beat United SC by a 2-1 margin. After Basudeb Mandi put United ahead, Saddam Hossain and Stanley Eze scored for George Telegraph to get them the win.
It remains to be seen if George Telegraph can prove to be a worthy opponent for Real Kashmir, who have been playing in the I-League since 2018-19.
But the historic implications of this long awaited IFA Shield final cannot be denied. If Real Kashmir FC manage to lift this historic trophy, they will not only enter the golden lineage of Indian football that stretches well beyond a century, but also mark an iconic moment in Jammu & Kashmir football by bringing to the Valley the very Shield that marked the beginning of the rise of Indian football clubs when Mohun Bagan won it in 1911.