THE BLOG BY CPD FOOTBALL | The World of Indian football and beyond by Chris Punnakkattu Daniel

Resurgent Pune FC snatch historic draw against Kitchee SC

AFC Cup: Kitchee SC v Pune FC

AFC Cup: Kitchee SC v Pune FC

Determined Pune FC produced a come-from-behind 2-2 draw against last year’s quarterfinalists Kitchee SC in an AFC Cup Group H Round 2 encounter at the Mong Kok Stadium, Hong Kong on Wednesday.

Playing their first overseas encounter and in conditions far too different than on the subcontinent, Pune FC earned a memorable point against the five time Hong Kong champions much to the disgust of the partisan crowd.

In a game of two halves, hosts Kitchee took a two goal lead in the first half through goals from defender Fernando Recia (28th minute) and striker Juan Belencoso (42nd). However, second half strikes from substitute Mirjan Pavlovic (55th) and winger Gabriel Fernandes (74th) restored parity for Pune FC.

It was not only the half-time introduction of Mirjan and defender Gurjinder Kumar that did the trick for Pune FC in getting the goals up front, but also goalkeeper Amrinder Singh’s heroics in the second half that kept Pune FC in the game. Incidentally, Amrinder turned out to be a hate figure with a fan literally cursing him for all his deeds for Pune FC under lights.

The point earned from this game took Pune FC’s overall tally to two points in as many games and they now stay third in the group behind leaders Kitchee (4 points) and Nay Pyi Taw FC (4 pts).

Coach Mike Snoei made three changes to the starting lineup handing starts to defender Anas Edathodika, medio Fanai Lalrempuia and Arata Izumi in place of Salam Ranjan Singh, Anthony D’Souza and Pavlovic.

Both sides began the game cautiously in cold, damp and slippery conditions.

Seven minutes in, it was Pune FC who went close first. Arata cut back to Douhou Pierre from the left and the playmaker sent him through. However, Arata’s attempt from the edge of the box sailed over.

At the other end, Kitchee went close on a couple of occasions. First, winger Cheung Kun Fung’s dangerous low cross in from the left was gathered by custodian Amrinder Singh before parrying away defender Fernando’s chipped attempt at the goal from outside the box.

Midway through the half, Anas’ poor back pass inside the box was capitalised on by medio Xu Deshuai who beat Amrinder but the Pune FC skipper tracked back to clear the danger.

At the other end, Pune FC went close on a corner, but the home side’s defense held firm to clear the danger

Two minutes from the half hour mark, the hosts took the lead on a counter attack after Pune FC lost the ball in the midfield. Fernando set on a run down the left and combined with fellow Spaniard Belencoso before scoring from the edge of the box.

At the other end, Pune FC went close couple of times as they began to dominate possession.

Three minutes past the half hour mark, Riga Mustapha was sent clear inside the box by winger Gabriel but his heavy first touch took the ball wide and he failed to take a shot.

The game was well balanced going into the final five minutes of the half. However, another poor pass from Pune FC in the midfield saw Kitchee increase their lead. A quick counter attack from the right saw striker Belencoso heading home winger Xu Deshuai’s deep cross in from the right at the far post.

Pune FC went into the breather trailing by two goals.

Coach Snoei introduced Mirjan and Gurjinder Kumar in place of Fanai Lalrempuia and Arata at the start of the second half. The move saw made the difference as Pune FC came out of their shell and started pushing up to dominate proceedings.

Eight minutes in, Riga went close from the edge of the box. However, his low shot was blocked by the defense and the rebound fell for Gabriel who failed to control.

Two minutes later, Pune FC pulled one back. A quick move on the left saw Gurjinder and Riga combining before the substitute’s low cross into the box was tapped home by Mirjan on the slide from six-yards out.

Moments later, Gurjinder’s drive from long range was parried away by Kitchee custodian Wang Zhenpeng.

At the other end, Amrinder kept Pune FC in the game with a couple of brilliant saves. First, an outstretched dive to his right to right to save a freekick, and minutes later, he kept his cool to deny Belencoso in a one-on-one situation inside the box.

Midway through the half, Gabriel showed his predatory instincts to pull Pune FC level. Douhou played a long diagonal ball on the left for Gurjinder who controlled and sent in a low cross inside the box. Gabriel timed his run to perfection rushing inside to score on the slide beating off a challenge from the defender.

Pune FC kept on pressing ahead restricting Kitchee to a few counter attacks. However, it was keeper Amrinder whose constant saves helped Pune FC remain in the game.

Adding to his earlier saves, the India-international produced two more back-to-back diving saves. First he denied Desuhai on a volley from the edge of the box followed by a save to block Chan’s dangerous long-range shot.

Into the final ten minutes, skipper Anas was substituted by Ranjan Singh after taking a blow on his head.

Pune FC pushed ahead in search of a winner in the final minutes but the game ended 2-2.