Real Kashmir FC, the first-ever I-League club from the Valley, got their campaign off to a dream start by beating defending champions Minerva Punjab at the Tau Lal Devi Stadium in Panchkula on Monday.

Towering striker Gnohere Krizo, a new recruit, had a dream league debut as the man from Ivory Coast scored the only goal of the match in the 74th minute.

Founded in 2016, the football club from Jammu and Kashmir has risen through the ranks at serious pace. Managed by Scottish football great and ex-Ranger star, David Robertson, the Snow Leopards went on to win the second division league last season and book their berth in the I-League.

Real Kashmir FC
File photo of I-League debutants Real Kashmir FC.IANS

Watched on by a 5,171-strong crowd, the much-anticipated league match started on a disappointing note as both the teams struggled in the midfield for most of the first-half. Punjab, who had been patchy in their goalless draw against the Churchill Brothers, started the second half strong but lacked the potency in the attacking third.

Kashmir's shot-stopper Bilal Khan came up with a tidy performance, keeping away Opuku's shot at the start of the second half which in the end proved crucial.

Mason Robertson-led three-man defence, which also had Dharmaraj Ravanan and Loveday Okechukwu, was up to the task, giving Kashmir the much-needed solidity in their season opener.

Against the run of play, Krizo got to the end of a throw from the right and fired one past the Punjab goalkeeper to put Kashmir ahead. The goal gave the visitors confidence as they were threatening to double their lead towards the end of the match.

Buoyed by the win on Wednesday, Kashmir will be raring to clinch another three points when they host Churchill Brothers in their first home game at the TRC Polo Synthetic Turf Ground in Srinagar on November 6.