Thimpu (Bhutan): Pune FC fought their hearts out and earned kudos from the crowd before ending up unlucky in a 0-1 loss to Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi, Bangladesh in the final of the King's Cup at the Changlimithang Stadium, here on Tuesday.
In a low scoring affair, Mohammad Yeasin Khan's 25th minute strike proved to be the winner for Sk. Jamal as Pune FC fell short in the final for the second consecutive tournament.
With the loss, Pune FC's finished their first-ever international overseas tournament as runners-up less than a month after their historic Durand Cup exploits where they suffered a similar fate in the final.
The match even saw some drama in the dying moments when Sk. Jamal began to waste time and had Jamal Bhuyan sent off, while Pune FC Coach Karim Bencherifa too was sent into the stands for "validly protesting" constant delays by the opponents.
Going into the game, Coach Bencherifa fielded the same starting line-up from the previous game while making a few changes on the bench. It was Pune FC, who began the game brighter and controlled the midfield in the opening ten minutes.
However, just like in the Durand Cup final, they once again suffered an injury setback early on. This time, it was skipper Anas Edathodika, who was stretchered out in the 10th minute with substitute Matthew Gonsalves replacing him, as Pune FC re-adjusted the backline.
As the game progressed, Pune FC grew in confidence and went close on a couple of occasions through attacker Eric Brown and playmaker Ryuji Sueoka. However, their efforts fell short as Sk. Jamal defended deep.
Midway through the half, a defensive error cost Pune FC as Sk. Jamal took a surprise lead. Off Wedson Ansalme's corner kick, defender Salam Ranjan Singh failed to mark Yeasmin who headed on to the target. Despite keeper Amrinder Singh blocking the effort, the ball rolled over the line giving Sk. Jamal the lead.
Having taken the lead, Sk. Jamal opted to stay back and defend deep. Pune FC kept on pushing ahead and after some half chances, went agonisingly close the 37th minute.
Medio Arata Izumi in the center, did well to chip the ball for Prakash Thorat. The Pune-born attacker chested down the ball and released a left-footer, which was blocked just in time by Yeasin.
Pune FC continued to push ahead but failed to break the Sk. Jamal backline as the first half ended 0-1 in favour of the opponents. The second half was a similar story with Sk. Jamal holding back and only moving up on counter attacks.
Three minutes in, Pune FC once again went close through Prakash. Midfielder Lalrempuia Fanai sent in a deep cross into the box at the far post. With the keeper failing to track the cross Eric headed the ball to Prakash on the face of the goal but his attempt was saved by the custodian, who rushed back.
A minute later, Prakash dribbled his way past a couple of defenders before sliding the ball back to Arata on the top of the box, but the India-international drilled his effort wide.
Pune FC kept on pushing hard, and in the five minutes that followed, created a host of chances. As the massive home support egged them on, Pune FC earned consecutive corners but efforts from Luciano Sabrosa, Sueoka and Eric were saved by the Sk. Jamal keeper to keep the score unchanged.
At the other end, Sk. Jamal almost scored on a counter attack after an error from Ranjan but Matthew did well to clear Emeka Darlington's effort. Pune FC continued to put pressure on the rival defense and almost camped in the Sk. Jamal half in the final quarter. However, despite getting inside the box, poor finishing in the final third let them down.
As the game entered the final ten minutes, Sk. Jamal opted to slow down the game using time wasting tactics which led to several bookings to their players. The game turned ugly into added time as Bhuyan Jamal was sent off for punching Sueoka in the face. The incident led to massive protests from the crowd and while protesting Pune FC Coach Bencherifa too was sent into the stands before the final whistle.
With the match done, Pune FC were given a standing ovation by the near capacity crowd, who waited till the team walked away from the ground.