Pune FC finished their group engagements in style by maintaining a clean record with a 2-0 win over Bangladesh’s Abahani Limited in the King’s Cup at the Changlimithang Stadium in Thimphu, Bhutan on Tuesday.
In a game of equal exchanges, late goals from midfielder Lalrempuia Fanai (86th minute) and defender Luciano Sabrosa (90th) helped Pune FC overcome the Dhaka-based side for a fourth consecutive win in the competition.
The result took Pune FC’s tally to 12 points in four games winning Group-B with a 5-point margin ahead of MMC, Nepal (7 pts), Abahani Ltd (4 pts), Ugyen Academy, Bhutan (3 pts) and Assam State Electricity Board (0 pts).
Moreover, Pune FC became the only side in this edition of the King’s Cup to end the group stage with one hundred percent record.
Coach Karim Bencherifa rung in five changes in the line-up handing starts to goalkeeper Moniruzzaman Ansari, defender Matthew Gonsalves and Luciano Sabrosa along with medio Mumtaz Akhtar and attacker Bineesh Balan.
The game began with Abahani dominating the early exchanges as Pune FC soaked pressure. However, keeper Ansari was alert to deny Shahedul Alam who let fly from 25 yards out in the 5th minute.
At the other end, Pune FC started building up pressure and themselves went close on couple of occasions through Bineesh and striker Thongkhosiem Haokip.
However, despite dominating possession in the midfield Pune FC were unable to penetrate through the Abahani defense until the 25th minute when medio Mumtaz’s intelligent chip sent Haokip in the clear only for the rival custodian Md. Ziaur Rahman to rush out and make a block.
Minutes later, it was attacker Eric Brown who almost broke the deadlock. His powerful shot rattled the woodwork and came off the horizontal in the 29th minute.
Thereafter, both sides kept pushing but once again fell short in the final third as the first half ended goalless.
Coach Bencherifa made a couple of changes at the start of the second half bringing in attacker Prakash Thorat and winger Snehashis Chakraborty in place of Haokip and Dhanpal Ganesh.
The change made an immediate impact as Prakash went on a fantastic solo, cut past a defender and set up Lalrempuia whose attempt on target was saved by the keeper.
Minutes later, Pune FC once again went on the attack. This time, Snehashis and Brown combined down the left but the Liberian’s set up for Bineesh was blocked by defender Samad Yussif.
At the other end, Abahani created their first close chance of the game in the 55th minute. Nasirul Islam did well to get past Luciano and crossed in for striker Ismael Bangoura who headed over from six-yards out.
Meanwhile, Pune FC who were camped in the opposition half kept on pushing up creating a few close chances but attempts from Bineesh and defender Zohmingliana Ralte lacked finish.
Midway through the half, Prakash once again set on a solo on the right before cutting back to Lalrempuia who in turn set up Brown. The Liberian was however unlucky as his try from 25-yards out was saved by the keeper.
Into the final ten minutes, Pune FC once again went close on a couple of occasions through substitute Nikhil who fell short on applying the killer finish from close range.
Just as it seemed that the match would end goalless, it burst into life in the final five minutes as Pune FC scored twice in succession.
First, winger Nikhil earned a freekick after being fouled by Samad 20-yards out. On the resultant set-piece, Lalrempuia curled in the attempt into the top corner to give Pune FC the lead in the 86th minute. The strike was also his first ever Senior goal for Pune FC.
Three minutes later, Pune FC earned a penalty with Nikhil once again at the heart of the move. The young winger showed some great control on the left and sent in a grounder to Prakash inside the box. Prakash brilliantly played dummy letting the ball go through for Bineesh who was brought down by Henry Felix as he tried to get past him.
Defender Luciano Sabrosa stepped up and made no mistake in slotting home the penalty kick past the keeper to double the lead and get his first goal in Pune FC colours.
Pune FC will now face the runner-up of Group-A in the second semifinal on Sunday.