Pune City and Bengaluru FC left themselves with everything to do in the return clash as they played out a goalless in the first leg semi-final of the Indian Super League (ISL) at Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex Stadium, Pune, on Wednesday. At the end of the absorbing 90-minute clash, coaches Ranko Popovic and Albert Roca were smiling, locked in a warm embrace on the sidelines. Both coaches would be happy with their showing. Pune will know they have a chance, given that they got a 1-1 draw when they went to Bengaluru in the league stage and Roca's team will have the backing of the home crowd at their Fortress.
League leaders Bengaluru were favourites for this semi-final clash but Pune measured up to the challenge till the final whistle, denying the visitors the crucial away goal, a rule that has been introduced in this edition of ISL for the first time.
It was a tale of two halves at the Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex Stadium. While Pune had a glorious chance to win the game late on in the second half, Bengaluru FC played their best football in the first 45 minutes.
After letting the home team dominate possession in the first quarter, Bengaluru FC slowly began to come into their own. At the half an hour mark, Sunil Chettri tested Pune City goalkeeper Vishal Kaith's agility from a free kick after Gurtej Singh brought down Miku just outside the box. From the resulting corner kick, Miku came close to opening the scoring but his header from close range flew over the bar.
Other than a cheeky backheel attempt from Marcelinho from an Ashique Kuruniyan cross in the 36th minute, FC Pune City's efforts on goal in the first half came mostly from outside the box which didn't really threaten Bengaluru goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh.
Both teams went into the break knowing they hadn't really put enough pressure on the opposition. After the restart, Pune took the initiative. First, Kuruniyan took a shot from distance at goal which was well blocked by the Bengaluru denfese. A minute later, it was Emiliano Alfaro's turn to have a crack at goal but his shot was also blocked by the defenders.
The pattern of play continued to develop in the same fashion as the second half progressed. Pune City wanted to make most of the home conditions and looked eager to get a goal. Bengaluru, on the other hand, seemed to have settled for a draw in their mind already.
The big moment for Pune came late in the match. With just 15 minutes left on the clock Marcelinho, who worked the channels all night, found himself in space to square a ball for Isaac Vanmalsawma for an easy tap-in. But the striker got his effort horribly wrong and the ball went wide of the goal.