ISL 2017-18: Stallions and Blues play out goal-less stalemate in cagey first-leg
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There was no separating FC Pune City and Bengaluru FC in an unremarkable first-leg clash in their playoff...

The first-leg of the Indian Super League (ISL) playoff clash between FC Pune City and Benglaluru FC ended in a drab 0-0 draw with neither side taking too many risks in the final third.

FC Pune City coach Ranko Popovic made as many as four changes in the starting XI which managed a 2-2 draw against Delhi Dynamos in their final league match. Lolo, Isaac Vanmalsawma, Marcos Tebar and Baljit Sahni were replaced by Gurtej Singh, Rohit Kumar, Marcelinho and Diego Carlos. With Marcelinho and Diego Carlos back, Marko Stankovic was deployed in the central midfield alongside Rohit Kumar and Adil Khan sent to the right-back position.

Alberto Roca on the other hand made just two changes in Bengaluru’s starting XI from the last encounter. The centre-back pairing of John Johnson and Juanan which missed out on the match against Kerala Blasters due to suspension, was back in action in place of Erik Paartalu and Nishu Kumar.

FC Pune City showed some urgency right after kick-off with the match being played on their home turf. Ashqiue Kuruniyan got an early opportunity to score the opening goal. A long ball from Sahil Panwar found the winger inside the box. Ashqiue trapped the ball with his chest but lost control thereafter and Gurpreet came out of his line to collect it comfortably.

Both the sides took a cautious approach in the first 45 minutes of the match, not wanting to concede first in the two-legged tie. The battle was mostly fought at the centre of the pitch with neither of the teams ready to penetrate into the attacking third.

Marcelinho and Diego Carlos were found switching positions constantly to confuse the opponents but the Bengaluru defence stood firm and did not allow the Pune attackers to impose any threat.

The visitors mostly focused on keeping control of the ball possession. They did not take unnecessary risks and thus the Pune backline was never really threatened. The only proper chance Bengaluru got was when Sunil Chhetri curled a free-kick but Vishal Kaith pulled off a brilliant save to deny the Blues’ skipper.

The visitors came close to score the opening goal of the match within five minutes of the second half. Dimas Delgado sent a deep corner inside the Pune box which was kept in play by Boithang Haokip. Both Sunil Chhetri and Juanan jumped in the air and attempted to head the ball but it went out of play amidst the confusion between the two.

Popovic introduced Isaac Vanmalsawma in the 56th minute in place of Ashique Kuruniyan with the young winger having a game to forget. Around the hour mark, Albert Roca brought in defensive midfielder Erik Paartalu in place of Toni Dovale. The change clearly indicated that the visitors were content with a point in this away fixture.

Isaac failed to score from a handshaking distance in the 75th minute of the match from Marcelinho’s pass. Emiliano Alfaro initiated the move with a run down the middle and switched the ball to Marcelinho on the right flank. The Brazilian entered the box and sent in a low cross for the Indian winger who just needed to apply a tap-in but failed to do so.

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In the 87th minute of the match, Roca decided to replace striker Miku with new signing Daniel Segovia. It was a rare bad day at the office for the Venezuelan international who failed to make an impact in the final third.

It was all square at the end of 90 minutes as the action now shifts to the Kanteerava Stadium where Bengaluru FC will play host to Pune in the second leg.

 

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