Pune FC held nerves till the end and walked tall with a 7-6 penalty shootout win over Mohun Bagan AC which secured a place in the King’s Cup final at the Changlimithang Stadium in Thimphu, Bhutan on Sunday.
The win was also Pune FC’s fifth in a row in this competition and sent them to their second final of the season after the Durand Cup earlier this month. Moreover, Pune FC also made history by qualifying into the final of their first-ever international overseas tournament.
In a low scoring semifinal clash, both sides scored in the first half. While it was Mohun Bagan who took the lead through Pankaj Moula (24th minute), Pune-born striker Prakash Thorat (38th) equalised for Pune FC.
With both sides failing to get a winner in regulation and extra time, the game went into the penalty shootout where keeper Amrinder Singh’s heroics helped Pune FC to a 6-5 sudden death win.
Coach Karim Bencherifa made four changes to the starting lineup handing starts to defender Salam Ranjan Singh, Arata Izumi, Ryuji Sueoka and Prakash.
In a game of equal exchanges, Pune FC created the first close chance of the game in the 10th minute after some half chances at either end. Defender Ranjan Singh let fly with an ambitious try from 35-yards out which went just wide off the framework.
Minutes later, a miss by Anas on a simple back pass allowed striker Sony Norde to run free. However, the Haitian striker’s attempt from close was off target.
At the other end, Pune FC almost took the lead. After medio Dhanpal Ganesh’s persistence in the midfield won him the ball, he found striker Eric Brown whose cross had Prakash head goalwards only for the try to lack power.
Two minutes later, Mohun Bagan took the lead off a defensive error. Tirthankar Sarkar cross from a throw in on the left allowed Pankaj space after Ranjan’s misjudgement and he did well to slide the ball past Amrinder.
Having gone a goal down, Pune FC began pushing ahead and had Eric’s powerful volley go wide. At the other end, Amrinder once again showed composure to come out and deny Pierre Boya with a great save.
Pune FC kept on pushing ahead and their persistence finally paid off in the 38th minute. Medio Arata Izumi found Ranjan on the left who cut in past a defender at crossed at the far post. Playmaker Ryuji Sueoka headed in the perfect cross from the far post to Prakash inside the box who lunged forward and scored his first-ever Pune FC goal.
Both sides went into the breather tied at 1-1.
The second half was a similar story as both sides continued to create chances.
After half chances at either end, Pune FC almost took the lead at the hour mark. Sueoka with a smart run down the right cut back from the goalline into the box just in time. Prakash who timed his run to perfection had his attempt blocked by the Bagan defense.
Minutes later, Sueoka tried to capitalise on the stray ball off a rebound but Bagan’s Sehenaj Singh had him in check.
At the other end, Bagan had a few close attempts from the strike pair of Boya and Norde but the Pune FC defense stood strong thwarting all attempts.
Into the final minute of the game, Eric sent Prakash through with a great ball. However, the Pune-born striker’s attempt went agonisingly wide as the game ended 1-1 after 90 minutes.
The game thereafter progresses into the extra time, where once again the attackers of both sides went close but fell short in the final third.
In the 111th minute, Bagan almost scored the winner. However, Amrinder once again came out on top with a perfect clearance to deny Norde on Katsumi Yusa’s set up.
In the final minutes of the game, Arata almost scored the winner, but his try off a stray ball skimmed past the far post. At the other end, Pune FC survived a close move as Norde’s direct corner sailed over everyone parallel to the goalline.
Pune FC once again went close in injury time but Sueoka’s effort from inside the box after some good work by substitutes Nikhil Kadam and Bineesh Balan was blocked by a defender.
With both sides unable to get the winner after 120 minutes, the game progressed into the dreaded penalty shootout.
Both sides were inseparable in the first five kicks scoring on all occasions. Ryuji Sueoka, Luciano Sabrosa, Arata Izumi, Lalrempuia Fanai and Bineesh Balan scored for Pune FC while Pierre Boya, Katsumi Yusa, Randeep Singh, Tirthankar Sarkar and Lalkamal Bhowmick scored for Bagan.
As the game went into the sudden death, Amrinder proved to be Pune FC’s hero. With skipper Anas Edathodika giving Pune FC a 6-5 lead in the tie-breaker, the India-international saved Pratik Chaudharo’s spotkick to send Pune FC into the final.
Pune FC will now face Bangladesh’s Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi in the final on December 2nd.