Pune seek to make statement of intent against hotspots Bengaluru
It is their first time in the last four for both teams.
Former I-League champions Bengaluru FC, faceoff against FC Pune City in the first leg of the semi-final in their debut Indian Super League (ISL) season. Pune City have had mixed fortunes throughout the season but thanks to a better head-to-head record against their opponents were the second team to qualify for the playoffs and eventually finished fourth on the table.
Bengaluru FC, the visitors, will look to set the ISL on fire by reaching the final thus spoiling the party for one of the founding teams of the league.
To get to know what’s at stake, we need to understand the basics of the ISL. Eight franchisees became 10 and one of the two new ones is already challenging for the crown which is much more valuable now.
Pune City have gotten their combination right for the very first time and will be looking to capitalise on their good fortunes as well as their excellent team this season. They also have the added motivation of giving back to their fans that have flocked in throngs for every match and supported the team through some difficult times in previous seasons.
Bengaluru FC has played in the AFC CUP for almost all seasons of their existence spare the first one. In the last five years, they have been successful both at the continental and national levels. This ISL championship means a lot more to them as they would like to challenge for continental glory again next season.
The Stallions and the Blues, both have a tonne to gain from winning the upcoming match and will not hold anything back to try and win this one. It is going to be a clash of epic proportions. Who will prevail? Favourites from the south, Bengaluru or the Deccan headliners Pune?
Team Pune have done exceedingly well under Ranko Popovic who has moulded and changed his side to suit his philosophy and the Serbian will field his strongest possible XI against favourites Bengaluru. Having a fully fit squad surely will be a pleasant headache and all the players will look to go out wearing their scoring boots.
Emiliano Alfaro is expected to lead the attack against the southerners and Gurtej Singh and Rafa Lopez will form the wall which will be looking to block the likes of Sunil Chhetri and Miku. Also, what Adil Khan does in midfield alongside Marcos Tebar will dictate the game and Brazilian Diego Carlos will be the main creative influence.
For Bengaluru the team that is headlined by Miku and Chhetri picks itself. Juanan and John Johnson will provide strength at the back while Udanta Singh will supply the pace to the attack. Lenny Rodrigues will look to influence the midfield and his timely tackles might prove to be the difference for the side away from home.
Albert Roca knows how to get results in knockout games and will look to use their superior experience to full effect to make sure that he sends FCPC packing in the first game itself.
The teams have faced each other twice with Bengaluru winning away after thumping 10-men Pune, while the Stallions went on to hold the Blues at the Kanteerava through a Sarthak Golui equalizer. There will surely be sparks flying looking at what has happened in the past.
Man to Watch
Emiliano Alfaro (Pune City)
The Uruguayan has been the focal point of the Stallions’ attack throughout this season. His quick speed and poaching instincts combined with his clinical finishing and incisive passing has taken most teams to task in the league phase. Alfaro has netted nine times while also bagging a couple of assists, and he will look to be at his deadly best in a crucial home tie.
Miku (Bengaluru FC)
The Venezuelan has been free-scoring on a consistent basis, and almost always creates an opening with the ball at his feet. He is prolific in front of goal, and makes the most of any odd opportunity keeping the opposition defence on their toes for as long as he is on the pitch. Miku is the second-highest scorer in the league right now with 14 goals. Three of those goals came against Pune, and he will once more look to get on the scoresheet.
FC Pune City: Kaith, Baljit, Lopez, Gurtej, Ashique, Marcelinho, Tebar, Kumar, Sarthak, Diego, Alfaro.
Bengaluru FC: Gurpreet, Khabra, Johnson, Juanan, Bheke, Paartalu, Dimas, Lenny, Chhetri, Udanta, Miku.
Did You Know?
This will only be their 3rd Match in any competition and both the hosts and visitors will look to capitalise.
Pune City have scored 30 goals and are just behind Bengaluru who have 35 goals. We surely can expect a goal rush.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu Currently leads the Golden glove award list as he has kept a high number of clean sheets.
The match will be broadcast live on Star Sports 2 and Stars Sports 2 HD 7.30 pm onwards. It will be also available for live streaming on Hotstar and Jio TV.
With inputs from ISL Media
Published: Tue Mar 06, 2018 08:01 PM IST