The dark horses of Pune take on in form Bengaluru

Amol Gokhale
Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Pune: In September 2017, even before the fourth edition of Indian Super League kicked off, the signs were not that bright for FC Pune City. ISL winning coach Antonio Habas had left the club even before the season began and in came Serbian--the 50-year-old, Ranko Popovic.

If one decides to look back at November 22 when FC Pune City lost 2-3 at home to Delhi Dynamos and the gloom that surrounded it; he will certainly find that tomorrow is already a bright day.

Pune: In September 2017, even before the fourth edition of Indian Super League kicked off, the signs were not that bright for FC Pune City. ISL winning coach Antonio Habas had left the club even before the season began and in came Serbian--the 50-year-old, Ranko Popovic.

If one decides to look back at November 22 when FC Pune City lost 2-3 at home to Delhi Dynamos and the gloom that surrounded it; he will certainly find that tomorrow is already a bright day.

FC Pune City has already achieved what has been their primary target of the season and will play the first leg of the ISL semi-finals against Bengaluru FC at the Balewadi Sports Complex on Wednesday.

The atmosphere at the club is already ecstatic and the team is pumped up to face the Blues. Why wouldn’t they be, as they will be in the history books of the club; playing the first semis and against the mighty Bengaluru FC, the best team in the league.

Bengaluru FC made their ISL debut as title contenders and they haven’t disappointed their faithful fans. They finished as the table toppers, were the first team to qualify for the play-offs--way back in early February--and finished on 40 points, eight ahead of second-placed Chennaiyin FC and 10 ahead of both FC Goa and FC Pune City.

But come Wednesday, their title credentials will be put to test when they will face FC Pune City away from home. In two meetings this season, Bengaluru beat Pune 3-1 at the Balewadi Sports Complex, but Pune was the better side till they were reduced to ten men. In the return fixture as well, the two sides were evenly matched and shared the spoils with a 1-1 draw.

Who will blink first
Ranko Popovic and Albert Rocca will have a full squad to choose from and it will be interesting to see how the sides set up, as both the teams like to play in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

It will be interesting to see if the home side goes with their four-men foreigners attack of Emiliano Alfaro, Marko Stankovic behind the striker and captain Marcelinho and Brazilian Diego Carlos on the wings. 

Pune’s ever reliant custodian Vishal Keith will have a back-line of Rafa Lopez, Gurtej Singh, Sahil Panwar and Sarthak Golui ahead of them with the task of keeping Bengaluru’s at bay.

The visitors, who arrived in the city on the eve of the match, are led by inspirational Sunil Chhetri, who along with Venezuelan striker Miku have done the bulk of scoring.

On Wednesday, the fans can be assured of a tactically astute game of football between the title contenders and the team who took the league by storm.

Both the teams will go for nothing else than victory, as every goal scored or conceded is of vital importance in the context of Sunday’s second leg in Bengaluru.

ISL introduces ‘Away Goal’ in semi-finals
- For what has been a common practice in all major leagues and tournament across globe, Indian Super League will introduce the rule of ‘Away Goal’ for the semi-finals of the ISL this season. 
- The ‘Away Goal’ rule will come into effect at the end of normal playing time during the second leg. If the aggregate goal difference between the two teams is zero (0), then the team that scored more away goals would be declared the winner of the tie.
- If the number of away goals and the score over the period of both the legs is the same, the match will head into the extra-time. At the end of which, if the scores are still tied, the game will head into penalties and the winner will be decided.

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