AFC Champions League

Looking back at Pune FC’s AFC Champions League qualifer at Balewadi

Manas P. KashyapManas P. Kashyap

August 26 2023

Mumbai City will also be playing their AFC Champions League games at the Balewadi Stadium.

Indian football enthusiasts went into frenzy when the AFC Champions League 2023-24 Group Stage draw pitted ISL 2022-23 table toppers Mumbai City FC along with the competition’s most successful side Al Hilal.

With the Saudi club having roped in galaxy of superstars in Neymar Jr., Kalidou Koulibaly, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic this summer transfer window, fans cannot wait to see their favourite fooballing icons play on Indian soil against the Islanders.

But do you know that Pune FC also fared in the AFC Champions League, and that too at the Balewadi where Mumbai City will be playing their games? Read below!

Pune FC in AFC Champions League

Back in 2013, Pune FC, runners-up in the I-League 2012-13 season, were in the mix for a group stage spot in the AFC Champions League 2014 by virtue of their club having passed the AFC club licensing requirements ahead of league champions Churchill Brothers. The ‘Red Lizards’, as they were popularly nicknamed, faced 2013 V. League 1 champions Hanoi T&T FC in Round 1 of Qualifying play-offs. Both the clubs had somewhat similar footballing fates, having made quick progression from the lower rungs of their respective domestic football leagues.

Hanoi T&T were without their first-choice goalkeeper Duong Hong Son and Argentinian targetman Gonzalo Marronkle due to injury concerns, but manager Phan Thanh Hung was upbeat about the opportunity to taste continental success. Meanwhile, Pune FC’s man-in-charge Mike Snoei admitted that it would be a tough game for his side against the Vietnamese champions. The Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex, in Balewadi, Pune, played host to the one-leg play-off match, the first time ever that an AFC Champions League match was being played in India.

In the 19th minute of the game, Pune FC had the first and the best opportunity to get the lead when Anthony D’Souza found open yards on the left and fired in a low range shot at goal. Although Hanoi goalie Nguyen Van Cong safely parried away the threat, Gabriel Fernandes couldn’t utilize the chance on the rebound. Just minutes later, Riga Mustapha’s through ball on the right flank found Gabriel again only to be denied by the visiting defense this time. The then Pune’s shotstopper Amrinder Singh cancelled out efforts on goal by the Vietnamese forwards PT Luong and NN Duy by making two consecutive saves. The first half ended goalless.

Second half action

After the interval, Pune came close to scoring once again in the early exchanges when Arata Izumi’s cross from the right was cleared and Dhanpal Ganesh drilled in a low-shot straight into the Hanoi T&T goalkeeper. The Vietnamese side went up 1-0 seven minutes into the second half when Australian defender Sam Gallagher’s header found the back of the net from a set-piece opportunity. Since then, the visitors took matter in their own hands. While Pune kept pressing up the pitch, they failed to deliver in the final third.

Hanoi doubled the lead in the 71st minute as substitute Nguyen Van Quyet headed in from close range, assisted with a well-timed chip from Hughtun Hector. The home side found themselves reeling in deep waters. The midfielder from Trinidad & Tobago, Hector himself scored in the 83rd minute after assisting the previous one and closed all doors for a Pune FC comeback. Hanoi T&T won 3-0.

Pune FC’s first taste of continental football thus ended in disappointment. Soon after, the Ashok Piramal Group owned outfit pulled out of the I-League after the 2014-15 season and the football club was dissolved a year later. Consequently, the academy side ‘Pune FC Academy’ was acquired by ISL franchise FC Pune City.

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