AFC Cup: Pune FC 2-0 Kitchee SC - Ralte brace inspires Red Lizards to historic victory
Pune FC 2 (Ralte 74, 80)
Kitchee SC 0
Pune FC: Amrinder Singh; Zohmingliana Ralte, Anas Edathodika, Salam Ranjan Singh, Gurjinder Kumar; Prakash Thorat (Lester Fernandez 46), Mumtaz Akhtar, Dhanpal Ganesh, Anthony D’Souza (Shanmugham Venkatesh 86); Riga Mustapha; Mirjan Pavlovic (Thongkhosiem Haokip 90+1)
Kitchee SC: Guo Jianqiao; To Hon To (Xu Deshuai 56), Tsang Chi Hau, Kyung-Jin Jang, Cheung Kin Fung; Lam Ka Wai, Chan Man Fai, Lo Kwan Yee; Wan Chun (Tsang Kam To 81), Juan Belencoso, Jordi Tarres
Pune FC defeated Hong Kong champions Kitchee SC 2-0 at the Balewadi Sports Complex on Tuesday to record their first-ever win in the AFC Cup.
After a goalless first half, defender Zohmingliana Ralte put the hosts in front in the second half and then Amrinder Singh saved Juan Belencoso’s penalty. Ralte soon doubled Pune’s advantage and the I-League outfit held on for a memorable victory over the group winners despite exiting the competition at the group stage.
There was only one surprise in the Pune lineup as Dhanpal Ganesh got the start ahead of India international Arata Izumi. Riga Mustapha started in his preferred playmaker role just behind lone striker Mirjan Pavlovic.
Kitchee coach kept first-choice goalkeeper Wang Zhenpeng and attacker Xu Deshuai among the substitutes with one eye on Sundays’ FA Cup semi-final against Rangers but Spanish forwards Belencoso and Jordi Tarres both started.
There were hardly any openings in the early stages with Tarres going the closest as he hit the side netting. Kitchee came into this game as clear favourites and they dominated possession in the first quarter with Pune having to defend in numbers.
Pune lacked the cutting edge from open play so it wasn’t a surprise to see them have their first effort from a set-piece as Ralte’s header from an Anthony D’Souza corner went over the bar.
Kitchee’s tempo dropped midway through the first period and it allowed Pune to grow into the game. The hosts saw the ball a lot more but were wasteful with their final pass.
In the closing stages of the half, Amrinder had to be at his best to preserve the clean sheet. He first showed great reflexes to stop To Hon To’s powerful shot and then stopped Chan Man Fai’s header from close range.
Pune made a blistering start in the second half with substitute Lester Fernandez proving to be the catalyst as his cross was headed narrowly wide of the target by Pavlovic. The hosts enjoyed a great spell of pressure, winning a series of corners.
Kitchee weathered that storm and nearly took the lead when Fai was sent clean through on goal by Belencoso but the midfielder could only rattle the woodwork. The visitors then created some pressure with Belencoso, who had scored in each of the first five matchdays, producing another smart save off Amrinder.
The match became an open contest but both sides were limited to efforts from outside the box as the defences remained well organised.
It looked like a set play could only break the deadlock and so it proved to be as Ralte headed home D’Souza’s corner delivery much to the delight of the locals inside the stadium.
However much like their entire group stage, Pune lost their concentration and almost immediately conceded a penalty as Amrinder brought down Lam Ka Wai inside the box. Belencoso stepped up confidently but his spot-kick was saved by Amrinder who also stopped Tarres’ effort from the rebound.
That double save proved to be a turning point as a few minutes later Ralte doubled the home team’s advantage. Once again it was from a flag-kick with Fernandez this time producing a quality delivery for Ralte to head past Guo Jianqiao.
Kitchee failed to produce a response as Pune comfortably held on for a landmark win. The I-League side ended their maiden AFC Cup campaign with six points from as many games while group winners Kitchee progressed to the round of 16 along with Myanmar’s Nay Pyi Taw FC.
Pune incredibly picked four points against Kitchee and managed two draws with Nay Pyi Taw but the defeats to Singapore’s Tampines Rovers proved to be costly. They were also the only team in this group to score in every game but managed only one clean sheet.