Pune: League table toppers Bengaluru FC and fourth-placed FC Pune City played out a goalless draw in the first leg semi-final of the Indian Super League at the Shiv Chhatrapati sports complex. In what was the third encounter between the two sides this season, both teams -- more so the visitors -- adopted the caution first attitude leading to a match that provided very little goalmouth thrills to the 9000-strong crowd.
The second leg will be hosted by BFC on March 11 where Pune need only a draw to go through to the final with the away goal rule in operation in the semifinals. BFC, the only side this season to have beaten all other teams and coming into the first leg semifinal unbeaten over their last eight games, started cautiously and adequately soaked up the initial pressure exerted by Pune City.
The home team had the better of the exchanges in the first 15 minutes and also had a good chance to go ahead early on. A lovely, long chip from well inside his territory by Sahil Panwar found Ashique Kuruniyan inside the rival box but the latter could not control the ball after chesting it and Gurpreet, under the Bengaluru bar, easily collected the ball.
Pune continued to surge forward but without spelling any real danger, and it was Bengaluru who came close to scoring when India skipper Sunil Chhetri's curling free-kick from outside the box, was brilliantly tipped over the crossbar by the home team's goalie Vishal Kaith just on the half-hour mark.
Just prior to this fine effort by Kaith, Dimas Delgado of Bengaluru and Gurtej Sing of Pune were booked for rough play by referee Om Prakash Thakur. Try as they did, Pune's dangerous strike force of Marcelinho and Emiliano Alfaro were frustrated by the timely interceptions of crosses and through passes by the BFC defence in which the towering Juanan stood out in the centre along with John Johnson.
The change of ends saw the game pick up some speed after a slow-paced first half with Pune's South American trio of Marcelinho, Alfaro and Diego Carlos stitching up a couple of good, combined moves without being able to break the deadlock.
Chhetri, at the other end, flunked a good headed ball that came his way inside the small box from Hoakip's header following a corner but both he and teammate Juanan jumped for the ball only to nearly bang their heads and the ball sailed wide.
Both teams decided to go for substitutions. Kuruniyan, who had a mixed match, gave way for Issac Vanmalsawma in the Pune midfield while Bengaluru brought in Australian Erik Parthalu for the unimpressive Antonio Dovale of Spain, also in midfield.
Subashish Bose then became the second from the visiting team to be booked for a foul on Marcelinho. Soon afterwards Udanta Singh, surprisingly not given a start, came in for Haokip to give an edge to the visitors' frontline.
Pune too made their second substitution by replacing Carlos with Jonathan Lucca a few minutes after Vanmalsawma had made a hash of a superb centre from Marcelinho. Venezuelan Miku, the star BFC striker who was largely anonymous today, was also replaced with 10 minutes left by Spaniard Daniel Lucas, a clear indication of the inability of the visitors in making any meaningful effort.
Finally, the match ended in a goalless draw, the second successive drawn match between the two sides this season after Bengaluru had won their opening skirmish 3-1 by coming from behind.