Pune FC sealed their second semifinal berth in the Durand Cup with a 1-0 win over Vasco SC in their final Group-IV encounter at the Raia Sports Complex in Goa on Tuesday.
Pune FC’s win was powered by two debutants – attacker Bineesh Balan and keeper Monirizzaman Ansari. While Bineesh’s lone strike in the 30th minute turned out to be the winner, Ansari’s brilliant penalty save in the 52nd minute also helped Pune FC to a second consecutive win.
The win also took Pune FC’s tally to six points in Group-IV ahead of Vasco SC (2nd, 1pt) and Churchill Bros (3rd, pt). It not only turned out to be their best ever group stage performance, but also helped helped them qualify for a second semifinal after 2011.
Coach Karim Bencherifa made two changes to the squad handing debuts to Bineesh and Ansari who replaced the suspended Amrinder Singh and Anthony D’Souza while keeping the rest of the squad same.
After an equally contested opening quarter, Pune FC went close in the 18th minute. Bineesh’s powerful attempt from the edge of the box was punched away by the Vasco keeper to keep score unchanged. Off the resultant corner, Luciano Sabrosa’s header went just wide.
Pune FC continued their domination and went close once again. Medio Dhanpal Ganesh’s long range strike was palmed away by the keeper for a corner kick. The set-piece that followed, gave Pune FC a well-deserved lead.
Playmaker Ryuji Sueoka floated in a deep corner from the left flank which was headed into the box from the far post. The ball fell for Bineesh on the edge of the box and he drilled in a powerful shot beating the keeper with ease as Pune FC took a 1-0 lead.
Pune FC kept on pushing ahead but Vasco defended deep. At the other end, the home side went close on a couple of occasions but the Pune FC defense led by Sabrosa and Salam Ranjan Singh held firm keeping Pune FC’s lead intact going into the breather.
The second half was a similar affair with both teams attacking from the word go. However, it was Vasco who almost equalised in the 49th minute.
Vasco earned a freekick outside the box on the right and the ball which was fired in caused a melee inside the box. With Ansari beaten, a cheekily dinked towards the Pune FC goal by an opponent was cleared off the line by Matthew Gonsalves.
Two minutes later, Pune FC defense was once again caught napping. While trying to clear a long ball into the box, defender Raju Yumnam brought down Rohan Kamble inside the box and the referee pointed to the spot giving Vasco a golden chance to equalise.
However, striker Emmanuel Ejiogu effort was brilliantly saved by keeper Ansari to keep Pune FC in charge.
Pune FC started growing in confidence and began pushing up with more frequency. Winger Prakash Thorat and medio Mumtaz Akhtar had their attempts from close blocked by the defense.
Into the final quarter, the game slowed down. However, substitute Eric Brown, on for Sueoka, had a couple of attempt on goal but was denied by the ‘keeper. Thereafter, Pune FC kept their calm to close out on a second consecutive win.
Pune FC now play local side Sporting Clube de Goa in the second semifinal on November 6th at 3.00 PM IST.