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Pune FC brighten semis chances, down Ar-Hima 3-0


Pune FC completed the win they were looking for with a facile 3-0 verdict over Ar-Hima FC and stand with a chance of making it to the semifinals of the 116th IFA Shield at the Howrah Stadium, here on Tuesday.

Skipper Mandjou Keita’s all round performance which included a brace of goals (68th and 89th minute) apart from assisting Douhou Pierre in the 87thminute capped off a stunning last 22-minutes of do-or-die action.

Pune FC completed their Group-C engagements, but await their fate of making it to the semifinals (only one team from the group advances) after Pailan Arrows play Ar-Hima FC in the last game. Arrows stand a chance provided they overcome Pune FC’s goal difference.

Playing the ‘unknown’ opponents for the first time, Pune FC made two changes to their line-up bringing in central midfielder Lester Fernandez and left wing half Maninder Singh in place of Subash Singh and ShanmugamVenkatesh.

The move meant Arata Izumi moving up into Subash’s place to assist Keita Mandjou and Lester taking his place alongside Douhou. Maninder fit in Venkatesh’s role.

True to Coach Derrick Pereira’s pre-match expectations of not knowing what to expect, the side from Meghalaya proved to the aggressors.

In the opening minute, Ar-Hima’s right-winger Nagen Tamang’s cross caused problems. Bikash Jairu, at the other end slipped past Othallo Tabia, only to fall short and allow custodian Subrata Paul collect.

Thereafter, Pune FC took time to settle. It was Arata gentle header from inside the penalty box after Caitano Costa floated him a free kick that drew attention away.

For some reason, Pune FC were playing the long ball a yard or so longer and losing momentum against Ar-Hima who cautiously made their build ups.

Ar-Hima, meanwhile, had striker Kelechi Okoye’s left-footed top-of the box volley fly past the post, then Bikash did the same over the horizontal from 25-yards out, before Subrata brought off a brilliant save from the feet of Kelechi after Tamang put him in the clear.

Between these high-moments Ar-Hima enjoyed, Pune FC fought off robust challenges of their rivals wherein defender-skipper Ennyinaya Loveday Okechukwu was shown the yellow card for pulling down Arata.

Keita stepped up the pace, but ran into off-side positions a couple of times and on one occasion weaved circles around three defenders but failed to square pass to Douhou on the top of the box.

With no noteworthy attack on goal, Pune Fc brought in Subash Singh for defender Kamaljeet Kumar reducing the defence to Anas Edathodika and Otahllo.

The change did bring one close moment at Pune FC’s end when Kelechi got in the clear on the left only to have Anas block his try deep within the penalty area.

With the scoreline goalless at half time, Pune FC began well with Lester playing it long from the left leaving Subash stranded at the other end. Back-to-back corners inside the first five minutes of the second half put the pressure on Ar-Hima, before Othallo positioned wide to the second post was caught confused after Dohou crossed from the left.

Into the 51st minute, Othallo almost provided a perfect cross for Keita to score, however a timely interception by ‘keeper Surjay Kumar Pariyar ended hopes.

With Pune FC upping the tempo, Ar-Hima were on the defensive and relied on counters. On the hour, Tamang ran clear on the right but lost out in delivering the ball across to Anas.

Fresh legs in the form of a double substitution where in Venkatesh replaced Karma and Srikanth Ramu came in for Arata Izumi added the sting Pune FC were looking for.

In the meanwhile, Subash and Lester combined well in the box, but just as lester tried releasing defender Dapor Bareh checked him resulting in a wide attempt from 10-yards out. A minute earlier, Keita tried into the hands of the ‘keeper.

An ambitious long try by Douhou followed up with Pune FC’s first strike in the 68th minute. Off a thrown in on the right, Douhou brilliantly back-heeled to bisect defenders Bikash and Dapbor and put Srikanth in the clear on the right. The substitute delivered an equally great cross that found unmarked Keita headed home from 8-yards.

At the other end, Pune FC’s custodian was in the thick of action. Bikash running to an overhead ball found Subrata leave his charge to clear. By moving out, Subrata ventured out of his area and what followed was Bikash falling claiming that Subrata made contact with his outstretched left arm. However, the linesman though otherwise, leaving Pune FC gasped and relieved to what was a close moment.

Pune FC almost had Keita double the lead but for the open header, off Douhou’s free-kick, that went wide after ending up unmarked in the box.

Into the final three minutes of regulation time and Pune FC had Srikant earn a corner off the legs of Tamang. Lester, from the right-flag, played long and wide and had unmarked Keita on the edge of the box collect and send the ball to Douhou inside the box. A neat finish from 10-yards out made the central midfielders day and doubled Pune FC’s lead.

A minute from the end, Keita following a Venkatesh long ball on the right ran clear only to be brought down by Loveday Okechukwu resulting in a penalty-kick. Keita grabbed the moment sending the Ar-Hima custodian the wrong way and taking his team’s and individual tally in the tournament to three.

With the game into the last minute of added time, Ar-Hima benefitted from a suspect ‘handball’ off Maninder Singh and earned a penalty. Kelechi who stepped up was nowhere on target leaving Pune FC’s slate clean at the end of the day.

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