Pune: FC Pune City played out a compulsive goalless draw against Bengaluru FC in their first leg Indian Super League (ISL) 2017-18 semi-final playoff at the Balewadi Stadium in Pune here on Wednesday.
The visitors came into the match as favourites, but it's the Stallions who will walk home frustrated after having dominated the game for long intervals.
Ranko Popovic prepared his boys well for the big contest and it was all evident from the starting whistle. The hosts did not give the ball away, keeping the possession ticking and attempting to find the opening between the lines.
As early as the fourth minute, the first real opportunity arrived for Pune as Sahil Panwar played a delicious lofted ball from the left to Ashique Kuruniyan who made a clever run behind the Bengaluru defence. The Malayali winger trapped it with his chest, but a heavy touch saw Gurpreet Singh Sandhu collect it safely.
Half an hour on the clock, the ISL debutants got a chance to open the scoring but were denied with a stunning save by Vishal Kaith after Gurtej Singh brought down Miku in a dangerous area outside the box. Sunil Chhetri curled a stunning free-kick with fierce pace only to be let down by a superman-esque save from the Pune custodian.
The game opened up interestingly after the half-time break with both teams hitting each other on the counter but lack of quality finishing at both ends in the final third meant the scoreline was still 0-0.
In the 56th minute, Popovic was forced to use his first substitution as Isaac Vanmalsawma made way for an injured Kuruniyan.
The men in purple and orange continued to grow strong in the game and wreaked havoc on the wings through the Brazilian pair of Diego Carlos and Marcelinho. However, a rigid Bengaluru defence, who have so far conceded the lowest goals in the league, stood up to the task again and thwarted all danger.
Pune pushed the Blues on the backfoot in search of a goal and came close to breaking the deadlock in the 75th minute, had it not been for some shoddy finishing from Isaac.
Emiliano Alfaro found space in the middle and teed up the Pune skipper Marcelinho on the right, who poked threatening cross into the path of the Mizoram winger as he scuffed his shot wide.
Heading into the second leg, Albert Roca's men will have the backing of the West Block Blues but the table-toppers will be well aware of Pune, who caused them a lot of headache on the night....