Blues A Win Away From Booking Place In ISL Final; Roca Expects A Fight To The Finish
Bengaluru: It’s all or bust for Bengaluru FC who have FC Pune City standing between them and a chance to play in the Indian Super League final at home, when the two sides go to battle for the second time in five days, at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, on Sunday. With the away leg of the semifinal ending in a goalless draw, Albert Roca’s Blues need a win to seal what is a dream date at the Fortress after the ISL announced Bengaluru FC’s home as the venue for the final to be played on March 17.
A rather measured first leg at the Balewadi leaves the fixture evenly poised where a scoring draw would be enough for Ranko Popovic’s team to advance. Incidentally, Pune’s Serbian coach will not be on the touchline after being handed a suspension following a disciplinary committee hearing on Friday.
Roca, while sounding optimistic about getting the job done at home, admitted the advantage would be anything but big against a team like Pune. “We’ve always had it tough against them. Yes, there will be the slight edge of playing on a turf we are familiar with and having our fans turn out and back us in big numbers. But there is too much at stake for Pune to consider this as an advantage to us,” said the Spaniard.
The Bengaluru defence didn’t have to break much sweat in a game where they kept Pune’s lethal duo of Marcelinho and Emiliano Alfaro, quiet. However, lack of chances in attack for the Blues is something Roca hopes his team will fix going into Sunday. “It was a good defensive performance, but we didn’t create as much as we would have liked, ahead. We know what we have to do, and we will take the pitch with that clarity.”
The Spaniard also admitted he might consider rolling out a different shape than the one he did in Pune. Bengaluru started out with Miku playing as the lone striker and the ploy didn’t seem to have the desired result. “It’s something I will consider. We still have a complete day to decide,” said Roca, who might also be tempted to start with Erik Paartalu and Udanta Singh this time around.
In what’s an impressive record that they would like to extend now more than ever, Bengaluru are on an unbeaten run of thirteen games in all competitions. “We haven’t really spoken about the unbeaten run, but Sunday will be a good day to stretch that.”
The last time Bengaluru brought a second leg of a semifinal back home was in the 2016 AFC Cup against Malaysian side Johor Darul Ta’zim. Coming to the Kanteerava on the back of a 1-1 draw away from home, the Blues churned out one of their finest ever performances, beating the former champions 3-1 after going down early. Sunil Chhetri scored a brace and Juanan Gonzalez shut the Malaysian fight with a header in a game that’s fondly remembered by players and fans alike. Sunday will need another such inspired showing from Roca’s men and he will surely be hoping for an encore.
The game kicks off at 8 pm IST and will be telecast across the Star Sports network, HotStar and Jio TV.