It took almost five years, but when it finally came, Sunil Chhetri’s much-awaited hat-trick (15’, 65’, 89’) sent a jam-packed Fortress into a frenzy as Bengaluru FC sent FC Pune City packing with a 3-1 win at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, in Bengaluru, on Sunday. It was a stage set for him and like always, the skipper turned up to dance. A header, a panenka from the master’s manual, and a sizzling finish at the end, sent Bengaluru FC to the final of their maiden Indian Super League appearance.
With the first leg ending goalless in Balewadi, Bengaluru needed a win to stake claim to a place in the summit clash they rightfully deserve. Ranko Popovic’s Pune side meanwhile, needed a goal scoring draw at the most to book a date at the Kanteerava on March 17.
Substitutes in the first leg, Erik Paartalu and Udanta Singh were handed starts by Roca and the young winger wasted no time in bringing the goods to the game. Capitalizing on a defensive lapse, Udanta darted down the right and whipped in a cross for Chhetri. But the skipper, despite his run intp the box didn’t get as much as would have liked to on the ball, shooting wide from close.
Pune City could have gone ahead only a minute later but Gurpreet Singh Sandhu showed why he’s the best in the land, with a reflex save as fine as they come. Diego Carlos’ shot at goal took a deflection off John Johnson and with Sandhu on his knees, looked like going past the ’keeper. But the No.1 pulled out his left hand in a flash to put the ball out for a corner.
But Bengaluru got the goal they needed to put them in command, when Udanta and Chhetri combined for a fantastic counter that ended with the captain nodding over Vishal Kaith to make it 1-0.
The winger picked out Chhetri before continuing his run from deep inside the Bengaluru half. Chhetri then bought Udanta time, twisting and slaloming between white shirts before playing it back to Udanta before looping his header from the cross, over Kaith.
The second half saw an equal battle between both sides in the early exchanges. However, the mood in the Fortress went into overdrive right around the hour mark when Bengaluru’s push paid off in the 63rd minute. Chhetri earned a penalty after substitute Sarthak Goloui pulled him down in the box, and he converted with a calm panenka to make it 2-0 to the hosts. Rahul Bheke almost made it 3-0 minutes later from distance, only to see his half volley rattle the woodwork.
While the Blues pushed for a third, it was Pune who pulled a goal back in the 82nd minute to set up a grand stand finish. Substitute Jonathan Lucca beat Gurpreet with a well-taken freekick after Johnson committed a foul right outside the box.
While the game turned nervy in the final few minutes, the skipper once again produced a beauty to seal the result. Dimas fed in the skipper on a counter and cut in past Rohit Kumar from the left before smashing it home to complete his first-ever treble in a Bengaluru shirt. Gurpreet saved a late free-kick from Marcelinho to keep Bengaluru’s lead intact.
The Blues will now face the winner of the second semifinal between Chennaiyin FC and FC Goa at the Fortress on Saturday, 17th March.