It was a day to remember for Pune FC as they opened their King’s Cup campaign in style with a 2-1 win over defending champions Manang Marshyangdi Club, Nepal in their Group B opener at the Changlimithang Stadium in Thimphu, Bhutan on Sunday.
The win was Pune FC’s first ever on foreign soil and was powered by a goal in either half from midfielder Arata Izumi (18th minute) and striker Eric Brown (60th). Substitute Deepak Rai pulled one back for MMC in the final ten minutes but Pune FC held on for a well-deserved win in their competition debut.
The result also took Pune FC (3 points) to the top of Group-B along with Bangladesh’s Abahani Limited who logged a narrow 1-0 win over Assam Electricity in the day’s first game.
Coach Karim Bencherifa made four changes to the Starting XI from the previous game handing starts to Anas Edathodika, Srikanth Ramu, Eric Brown and Thongkhosiem Haokip.
Playing the game in very cold conditions, Pune FC did well to settle down quickly and went close on a couple of occasions inside the opening five minutes, but striker Ryuji Sueoka and Haokip were found wanting on a couple of occasions.
At the other end, MMC too went close with Shiva Shreshta’s angular grounder from the edge of the box went wide at the far post.
Minutes later, Arata too went close for Pune FC. After some good combination play between Sueoka down the middle and Lalrempuia Fanai on the right, the youngster’s cross into the box was headed straight into the keeper by Arata.
Pune FC kept pushing up and were finally rewarded in the 18th minute. Lalrempuia’s effort on the second ball off a clearance on Brown’s freekick earned Pune FC a corner. Sueoka played it short to Arata who sent in a whipping cross meant for Haokip. But, with the keeper distracted by the striker, the ball ended up directly in the net.
At the other end, keeper Amrinder Singh pulled off a brilliant save to block Leonel Stephen’s piledriver.
Around the half hour mark, Pune FC went close on a couple of occasions through Haokip and Brown but the MMC custodian held firm.
Minutes later Haokip once again went close but his left footed volley off Arata’s great overhead ball ended up in the side netting. At the other end, Amrinder kept his calm to deal with a deflection off Salam Ranjan Singh on Narbet Aba’s shot.
Both sides had a few half chances towards the end of the first period, but Pune FC kept their one goal lead intact going into the breather.
Having soaked pressure early on in the second half, Pune FC almost increased their lead in the 52nd minute. Sueoka’s corner was headed out by a defender and the second ball fell for Arata whose volley went agonisingly wide.
Pune FC’s persistence paid off as they finally got the elusive second goal right on the hour mark. Brown fired in a freekick straight into the wall and it found its way through it into the goal.
Seven minutes later, Haokip did well to get into the clear on the left but was checked by Leonel. The youngster got up but was brought down by a diving ‘keeper and the referee waived play on.
At the other end, defender Zohmingliana Ralte was alert as he denied striker Dodoz Zakhal who was set on dangerous run down the right flank.
Into the final quarter, the pace of the game had decreased with a lot of tackles flying. And, during one such tackle, Haokip suffered an injury and had to be stretchered off and replaced by Prakash Thorat.
Into the final ten minutes, substitute Deepak capitalised on medio Dhanpal Ganesh’s poor first touch on Anas’ pass and scored to set up a thrilling end.
However, Pune FC held on to their 2-1 win in the final minutes of the game for a famous win.