Bengaluru: Staring down the business end of the ISL season, FC Pune City and Bengaluru are well aware that it’s make or break after a goalless first leg, when they do battle again at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium here on Sunday.
The 0-0 draw in Pune six days ago was a cagey affair, with both teams more concerned about keeping a clean sheet than marking the occasion of their first respective semi-final appearances with a goal. Despite having not bagged a crucial away goal, the onus lies with the league-stage toppers, who boast a home record of six wins out of nine so far. Unbeaten in 13 games in all competitions, Albert Roca’s men will be banking on their superior head-to-head record against the Maratha Stallions — with one win and two draws. However, the Spanish coach is taking no prisoners in a bid to guide his team to the summit.
“We’ve always had it tough against them. Yes, there will be the slight edge of playing on turf we are familiar with and having our fans back us in big numbers. But there is too much at stake for Pune to consider this as an advantage to us,” said a cautious Roca on the eve of the match.
Pune might think they have the upper hand with the away-goals rule in mind, as even a solitary goal in a 1-1 draw will be enough to book their place in the final.
But chances were few and far between for the potent pairing of Marcelinho and Emiliano Alfaro in the first leg, and Pune’s assistant coach Vladica Grujic backed their abilities.
“We know what our strong points are and we know what to do to win this game. Every player is thinking about the final. Every player is ready to give everything. We want to win,” he said.
Pune have no injuries or suspensions hindering them and will welcome the news of head coach Ranko Popovich’s touch-line ban being lifted.
The Serbian was to serve an indefinite ban after once again criticising the standard of refereeing — his regular fare — following the first leg. The AIFF saw fit to reverse that decision late on Saturday, which will allow him to be in the technical area.
Roca will be keen to re-include Udanta Singh to service the attacking threats of skipper Sunil Chhetri and top scorer Miku, after the winger started on the bench in the first leg. Harmanjhot Khabra, Nishu Kumar and new signing Victor Perez will be unavailable for the Blues....