The I-League’s second division will come to a close on Thursday with one of Delhi-based Hindustan FC or Srinagar’s Real Kashmir FC earning a coveted I-League spot for the next season.

That would increase the number of North Indian teams in the top divisions to three, with I-League champions Minerva Punjab and Indian Super League team Delhi Dynamos also taking the field next season. With the possible corporate entry of Sudeva FC, this number may even rise to four, in what would be a huge shot in the arm for football in the region.

For Hindustan FC, a win against Real Kashmir on the last matchday would mean an end of a 14-year stay in the second division. The club, led by Vikrant Sharma, a former goalkeeper of Dempo, came second in Group A of the preliminary stage, going unbeaten with five wins and five draws.

Ozone, who conceded the least amount of goals in their 10 matches (3) were heavy favourites for promotion but the David Booth-led side were unable to match their form in the final round.

Real Kashmir, who topped Group A, grabbed a vital 3-2 win over Ozone, to set up the decider against Hindustan. RKFC, coached by former Leeds United left-back David Robertson, could become the first Kashmiri club to play in the top flight, if they hold Hindustan to a draw, on account of having scored more goals in the final round.

Heartbreak for TRAU

Tiddim Road Athletic Union, one of the oldest clubs in Manipur, missed a chance to emulate Neroca and set up an Imphal derby for the next season despite dominating Group C.

TRAU, owned by Phulen Meitei, gathered the most number of points of all the competing teams (23) and were also highest scorers with 26 goals, as the Manipuri club displayed zip and vigour to top a potentially tough group.

In their first season competing in the second division, TRAU slipped up against Hindustan conceding a 92nd-minute winner, and were eliminated after a 2-2 draw against RKFC.

Secretary Meitei said ‘they would be back next year’ after a fantastic campaign from the three-time Manipur State League champions.

For now, the attention shifts to Bengaluru where Hindustan must defeat Real Kashmir to seal promotion while the latter must only draw to guarantee a historic I-League spot.