Durand Cup: Pune FC held by CRPF

Pune FCNew Delhi: Pune FC did everything they could before settling for a 0-0 draw with Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in a Group-II encounter of the 125th Durand Cup at the Ambedkar Stadium, New Delhi on Thursday.

At the end of regulation time, all present will agree, it was not Pune FC’s day. Creating chances galore, Pune FC fell short in finish as they tried negotiating ways to get around an opposition that preferred to be defensive.

If camping in the CRPF half was the story of the first session, the second half had the goal-frame deny Pune FC twice, apart from the CRPF goalkeeper tipping over an Arata Izumi overhead volley just in time.

Pune FC began the game dominating possession from the word go. Striker Jeje Lalpekhlua, who was also the skipper, created the first chance of the game. He beat two defenders and crossed in for Arata Izumi whose shot was blocked.

Couple minutes later defender Gurjinder Kumar drilled home a brilliant free-kick from 25-yards out. The referee cancelled it out since he awarded an indirect free-kick. Five minutes later, Jeje had a fantastic chance to open the scoring but failed to connect with his left foot properly.

CRPF were happy staying in their own half, and went on occasional counter attacks. One such try saw Varinder take a 25-yard strike but defender Chika Wali averted the danger.

Twenty minutes into the first-half, Jeje took another chance from top of the box. This time ‘keeper SD Shyam came to CRPF’s rescue. CRPF, playing an ultra-defensive game, were going on attacks only when Pune FC lost the ball.

Nearing the half hour mark, striker Subash Singh had two good chances of putting the Reds in the lead. First, Karma beat two rivals on the right to find Subash in the box only for the striker’s attempt to be blocked. Later right-back Srikanth Ramu sent Subash in the clear and the Manipuri lobbed over the on-rushing keeper in a one-on-one situation.

Moments before the missed chance, defender Anas Edathodika was booked for this challenge on the opponent. The game had become more physical and Subash was brought down by tackle which looked quite harsh.

The first half ended in disappointment for Pune FC as the opponents weren’t interested in playing football and preferred defending all out.

The second half was no different story as Pune FC continued to surge forward. The physical nature of the game was evident as Mumtaz Akthar was brought down by the rival which earned him a yellow card.

Ten minutes into the half, Pune FC went close to taking the lead. Striker Subash Singh cross in from the left to find an unmarked Arata in the box. Arata brilliantly connected with an overhead volley only to have ‘keeper Shyam ensure a corner was conceded.

Coach Derrick Pereira then brought on Nikhil Kadam and Asim Hassan in place of Srikanth Ramu and Karma Tsewang.  Minutes later Venkatesh was brought down and another CRPF player went into the book.

Defender N. Mohanraj was brought in after the hour mark to replace Venkatesh. The defence realigned as Mohunraj went into the left flank and Gurjinder switched to the right. The midfield, too, was realigned as Nikhil went to the left while Arata took the right flank. Asim and Mumtaz marshaled the central midfield.

Five minutes after the hour mark, Asim went agonizingly close as he hit the crossbar with a strike from 35-yards out. Asim, then, set off solo down the centre to put Subash clear. Utalising the opportunity, Subash chipped for Jeje in the box only to have the keeper cut off the move with a great collection.

CRPF tested Pune FC keeper Amrinder with couple of shots, but the Punjabi lad was not to be troubled much.

Pune FC went close once more when Arata cut back from the right to find Gurjinder who bulldozed into the box and released a grounder. The shot hit the base of the second post in what was the second instance of Pune FC being denied by the framework in the second period.

As the game entered the final ten minutes, CRPF employed time wasting tactics to get a point out of the match. Long clearances and going down to the ground were few tactics used by the opponents.