Pune: He’s always been the favourite boy of the West Block Blues, the talisman and the leading light of the Bengaluru FC, The big players rise up to the occasion and deliver when it matters the most.
Bengaluru skipper Sunil Chhetri did exactly that as he scored a stunning hat-trick to end FC Pune City’s fairytale run in the Indian Super League (ISL) at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium here on Sunday as Bengaluru FC defeated the Stallions 3-1 in the second leg of their semi-final.
Playing on home ground, Bengaluru wrote more history in Indian football, reaching the ISL final in their debut season, which will be played on Sunday (Mar 17) at the same venue, ‘the fortress’ of the Blues.
After the cagey first-leg, with all to play for, the second leg started on a bright and intense note so much so that, both the teams could’ve opened their account within the first five minutes of the game.
Udanta Singh, who only came on a substitute in the first-leg, was on his scooter all through of the first half. After skipping past Pune’s left back, he put a wonderful cross around the six-yard box to find the skipper Chhetri, only for the forward to spurn the chance.
At the other end, Emiliano Alfaro found Diego Carlos on the edge of the box. The Brazilian striker skipped past his marker and fired a shot from inside the box. The ball took a deflection off Rahul Bheke and drew a superb reflex save from his own keeper Gurpreet Singh to maintain the parity.
Udanta was making runs after runs down the right flank causing Panwar all sorts of problems. In the 15th minute, Pune’s move broke down in the centre of the park and Chhetri started the counter and found Udanta on the right.
The winger once again left in acres of space put a peach of a cross to find the head of Chhetri. Pune’s Vishal Keith who has been ever reliant throughout the season fluffed his line as both he and defender Gurtej Singh missed the ball. As the ball bounced into the back of the net, the Stadium erupted in the joy of crucial early goal.
After bagging the opener, the hosts dominated the first half and frustrated the visitors, as three FC Pune City players were booked in space of eight minutes as Panwar, Carlos, and Rafa Lopez all went into referee’s book.
In the second half as well, the visitors started on the front foot, with Alfaro putting his effort just over the bar.
The game changed in the 65th minute when substitute defender Sarthak Golui allowed Chhetri to skip past him in the box and when he realised his mistake, committed another one by pushing the India striker to the ground, leaving referee no choice but to point to the spot.
Chhetri stepped up and at the crucial moment, chipped the ball in the back of the net, leaving Keith scrambling on the floor and double his sides’ advantage. As the ball dinked in the back of the net, the footballing fans must have remembered the Andrea Pirlo Panenka against England in 2012 Euro.
Jonathan Lucca pulled one back for the visitors in the 82nd minute, with a stunning free-kick 35-yards out from goal, to give West Block Blues some nervous moments as an equaliser would’ve sent Pune through.
But one minute from the end of regulation time, Dimas chipped ball over the Pune backline towards Chhetri and the striker with yet another darting run in the box, found the back of the net sending the 24,00 spectators into the frenzy.