Pune FC qualified for a historic final in the prestigious Durand Cup with a stunning 2-1 win over home side Sporting Clube de Goa in the semifinals at the Raia Sports Complex in Raia on Thursday.
The win was Pune FC’s third in a row and helped them qualify for their first ever final in Asia’s oldest football competition in seven years since inception.
The semifinal match was filled with drama all throughout. A volleyed goal, a long range strike, a freekick, a controversial penalty and a penalty save all made up for an exciting game of football.
Striker Bineesh Balan (19th minute) opened scoring for Pune FC before Sporting striker Boima Karpeh equalised (23rd) moments later. However, playmaker Ryuji Sueoka’s 62nd minute strike turned out to be the winner for Pune FC. Contributing to the win was also keeper Amrinder Singh, who saved a penalty kick in the final ten minutes of the game.
Going into the clash, Pune FC Coach Karim Bencherifa made three changes handing starts to keeper Amrinder Singh, defender Srikanth Ramu and medio Lalrempuia Fanai.
Both sides began the game on the offensive and created a few half chances early on in the opening quarter. Pune FC were the first to go close when striker Prakash Thorat was sent clear by Sueoka, but his effort from close was saved by the keeper in the 12th minute.
After a period domination, Pune FC finally took the lead in the 19th minute. After getting into the clear on the right, Lalrempuia floated in a cross at the far post. Bineesh timed his run to perfection and fired in a first time acrobatic volley scoring for the second consecutive game.
Just as Pune FC relaxed a bit, striker Karpeh made them pay. A misunderstanding between defenders Srikanth Ramu and Saam Ranjan Singh allowed the ex-Pune FC striker to capitalise and he made no mistake in scoring from range to restore parity.
Both sides kept on pressing in the final stages of the first half, but fell short in the final third as the half ended 1-1.
The second half began with Sporting pushing ahead continuously. Having soaked pressure early on in the second half, Pune FC settled down and started creating chances. Skipper Arata Izumi did well to earn freekick just outside the Sporting box on the right at the hour mark.
Playmaker Sueoka stepped up, and sent in a beautiful curling shot at the far post which left the Sporting custodian grounded to restore Pune FC’s one goal lead.
In the final half hour, the game turned physical with a lot of tackles flying from both sides. However, Pune FC continued to push ahead and went close on a couple of occasions.
Midway through the half, striker Prakash Thorat controlled the ball in the Pune FC half and set on a wonderful solo. He covered the entire pitch but was dispossessed in the opponent’s box as he tried to slow down.
Minutes later, Dhanpal Ganesh dispossessed an opponent on the half line and set on a solo before he shot was blocked on the edge of the box.
At the other end, medio Cajetan Fernandes went close on a couple of occasions from distance but was denied by some good goalkeeping by Amrinder.
Into the final ten minutes, Sporting were handed a lifeline by the referee who controversially pointed to the spot after Karpeh went down too easily to Luciano Sabrosa’s challenge inside the box. However, Anthony Wolfe’s attempt from the penalty spot was brilliantly saved by keeper Amrinder who dived to his left and impressed further by holding on to the loose ball.
Thereafter, Pune FC kept their calm in the closing stages of the game and held on for a famous win.
Pune FC will now face another Goan-side Salgaocar FC in the big final on November 8 at 15.00 IST.