AFC Cup: Kitchee SC 2-2 Pune FC - Remarkable comeback from the Red Lizards
Kitchee SC 2 (Recio 29, Belencoso 43)
Pune FC 2 (Pavlovic 55, Gabriel 75)
Kitchee SC: Wang Zhenpeng; Tsang Kam To, Tsang Chi Hau (Liu Quankun 77), Kyung-Jin Jang, Cheung Kin Fung; Fernando Recio, Gao Wen (Lo Kwan Yee 62), Lam Ka Wai; Xu Deshuai, Chan Man Fai, Juan Belencoso
Pune FC: Amrinder Singh; Srikantha Ramu, Anas Edathodika (Salam Ranjan Singh 88), Calum Angus, Zohmingliana Ralte; Gabriel Fernandes, Dhanpal Ganesh, Lalrempuia Fanai (Mirjan Pavlovic 46), Arata Izumi (Gurjinder Kumar 46), Douhou Pierre; Riga Mustapha
Pune FC fought back from two goals down to earn a 2-2 draw with Hong Kong’s Kitchee in their first-ever fixture outside India at the Mong Kok Stadium in Hong Kong on Wednesday evening.
The AFC Cup 2014 Group H encounter got off to the worst possible start for Pune as they trailed 2-0 at half time after strikes from Kitchee’s Spaniards Fernando Recio and Juan Belencoso. But an inspired double substitution at the interval from Pune coach Mike Snoei saw the Red Lizards make a remarkable comeback thanks to goals from Mirjan Pavlovic and Gabriel Fernandes with Gurjinder Kumar providing the assists on both goals.
There were surprises in both starting lineups as Kitchee’s Spanish star Jordi Tarres didn’t even make the match squad. Recio started in a defensive midfield role with Belencoso as the center-forward in a 4-3-3 system.
Meanwhile Snoei opted to keep both his center-forwards Pavlovic and Thongkhosiem Haokip on the bench with former Bolton man Riga Mustapha starting as the lone striker upfront in a 4-4-1-1 formation.
Kitchee came into this fixture as clear favourites so it wasn’t a surprise to see them dominate possession in the early stages. But the Hong Kong league leaders were struggling to get behind the Pune FC backline with goalkeeper Amrinder Singh also being tested from long range.
The first real opening came from a Pune mistake as Anas Edathodika’s backpass to Amrinder was intercepted by Xu Deshuai but the custodian came out quickly and grabbed the ball at Deshuai’s feet.
Kitchee’s opening goal came from another Pune blunder as Douhou Pierre gave away possession easily in midfield, allowing Recio to carry the ball forward and slot the ball past Amrinder after exchanging passes with Belencoso.
Pune produced a good response after going behind with Gabriel playing Mustapha clean through on goal but the veteran attacker delayed and allowed Kitchee to clear for a corner.
The hosts continued to look dangerous going forward and doubled their advantage after a quick counter attack as Deshuai’s deep crossed was headed home by Belencoso.
Pune hadn’t done much wrong defensively in the first half but were punished by a ruthless and experienced Kitchee outfit. However the I-League club hardly had any threat in attack as Mustapha struggled in an unfamiliar centre-forward role.
Snoei brought on Pavlovic at the start of the second period while India left back Gurjinder Kumar was also brought on to give Pune width on both flanks with Gabriel operating on the right like the first half.
Kitchee’s tempo dropped after the restart and they paid for their complacency just ten minutes into the second half as Pune pulled one with substitutes Gurjinder and Pavlovic combining. The move was started by Mustapha who exchanged passes with Gurjinder, whose low cross was put into the back of the net by Pavlovic.
Pune were enjoying a great spell with young Dhanpal Ganesh also testing Kitchee custodian Wang Zhenpeng from distance.
The home side were clearly rattled and finally came out of their shell midway through the second period. They started creating chances but Amrinder was in superb form as he produced important saves to deny Belencoso and Cheung Kin Fung. Belencoso in particular was very wasteful as he squandered gilt-edged chances to keep Pune’s hopes alive.
Pune’s equaliser came after a fine team move as Douhou switched play well to find Gurjinder on the left flank and the 23-year-old’s right-footed low cross was guided into the back of the net by Gabriel.
Predictably Kitchee created plenty of chances in the final stages as they desperately searched for the winner. But Amrinder remained focus and stopped long-range efforts of Deshuai and Fung while Belencoso headed wide from close range.
Pune also lost their skipper Anas through injury late on but held on for one of the best results of their seven-year history. Snoei’s side are third in the group with two draws from as many games but are very much in contention for a knockout berth and have another away match on matchday three against Singapore’s Tampines Rovers.Published 12 Mar 2014, 19:26 IST