Spotlight On The Final Stretch As Balewadi Gears Up For First-Leg Of ISL Semifinal; Johnson, Juanan Return
Pune: Albert Roca insisted that the slate had been wiped clean and that momentum from the league stages is all that his Bengaluru FC side will be carrying along with them when the Blues come up against FC Pune City in the first leg of the semifinal of the Indian Super League, at the Balewadi Stadium, on Wednesday.
“All those records and achievements will mean little when we step on the pitch on Wednesday. This is now a new tournament and we will have to pace ourselves very differently. Yes, we take with us all the good that we have done over the last few months, but it is what we do over the next two weeks that will finally matter. The margin for error is very little and more so against a side like FC Pune City,” said Roca on the eve of the game.
The first team to book a place in the knock-out stages of the tournament, Bengaluru romped to the top of the table with an ISL record of 40 points, eight more than second-placed Chennaiyin FC. They also ended the regular season with the best defensive record, conceding just 16 times with seven clean sheets to show for.
In Ranko Popovic’s FC Pune City, Bengaluru will be up against a team that is compact in all areas on the pitch. Their attacking duo of Marcelinho and Emiliano Alfaro have been clinical ahead, accounting for 17 of Pune’s goals together.
“Pune do have quite a few quality players in their team, and it was an even battle the last time we played each other in Bengaluru three weeks ago. They have lost once in their last five games, so they haven’t really struggled to make the play-offs. They will demand a lot out of us and we will need to turn up,” said Roca.
The last time the two sides squared off at the Balewadi, Bengaluru fought back from a goal down to beat Pune 3-1. Venezuelan striker Miku turned up with a brace, before Chhetri’s late strike in a game that saw the hosts reduced to ten men after Baljit Sahni was sent off.
Going into tomorrow’s game, Bengaluru will continue to miss services of defender Harmanjot Khabra who is recuperating from an injury to the ribs. However, the Blues’ back four will be bolstered by the return of John Johnson and Juanan Gonzalez, both of whom missed the last league game of the season against Kerala Blasters owing to suspension. New signing Victor Perez is also in the fray for the visitors with Pune having Marcelinho back after a suspension.
The game kicks off at 8 pm IST and will be telecast across the Star Sports network, HotStar and Jio TV.