The Stallions have not won either of their fixtures against the Blues this season.
FC Pune City host Bengaluru FC for the first leg of the first semi-final of Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2017-18 at the Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex Stadium in Pune. The Stallions had a stuttering finish to the league phase as they picked up just two points from their last three matches. They face a tough task against the table-toppers and addressing the media at the pre-match press conference was their head coach Ranko Popovic.
The Serbian explained that the semi-final was a completely different ball-game, one in which the team will have to give their all. “In the league phase, if you did not play a game well, you had a chance to do better in the other games,” Popovic said. “But now, in this knock-out phase, we will have to be more careful. We have to change a lot of things. We have two games and in both games we have to be smart and give more than a 100 percent if we want to go to the final.”
He underlined the importance of their South American duo of Marcelinho and Emiliano Alfaro but added that a team effort was required to get results. “It is important for us to have both Marcelinho and Alfaro in the starting line-up,” Popovic admitted. “But to have them at their top level, we must have other players who can help them. Because if other players are not in the game, both of them will find it very difficult. That’s why we try to play like a team. We have players who are at their top level. And if we can touch our limits in the two games, we will get close to what we want.”
Speaking about opponents Bengaluru FC, the 50-year-old insisted that they were the best side in the league but maintained that Pune were braced for the challenge. “It will be very difficult in every way to play against Bengaluru FC,” Popovic conceded. “They are a fantastic team and the best in the regular season. They have top Indian and foreign players. They have more points than us, but we cannot have a better opportunity to beat the best. If you beat the best one, you are the best. Simple.”
Regarding his team’s approach, Popovic added: “We have two games and we have to concede as less as possible and score as much as possible. We have to repeat the kind of performance and balance we showed throughout the season.”
Popovic also pointed out that playing well did not necessarily guarantee his team a win. “We want to make everything possible for a victory,” he stated. “I cannot tell you how we will go about that because there were many times this season that we were the better team and did everything possible for a victory but still did not win the game. What I want from the team is to come into the game with a mentality of achieving a victory. We will be coming into the game to win the game.”
Meanwhile, Bengaluru assistant coach Naushad Moosa was not worried about playing an away fixture, insisting the main aim is to be winning. “If you see our track record, we have lost two away matches and two home matches,” he inferred. “We just take it in a positive way. So, it does not matter if we are playing at home or away. We are here to play good, positive football and win the match.”
Regarding his opponents as well as Bengaluru’s approach to the game, Moosa said: “In the last five matches Pune have played, they have lost only one match. And they have been very good and aggressive in their game-play. So, we will of course look to get an early goal.”