ISL: Away goal rule forces BFC into must-win tie at home

A goalless draw in the first leg puts pressure on Bengaluru FC to win at home when it hosts Pune City FC on Sunday.

Action from the first-leg goalless draw between Bengaluru FC and FC Pune City on Thursday.   -  ISL Media

The ‘away goal’ rule implemented in the semifinal stage of the Indian Super League has forced coaches to rework their calculations and players to be careful to avoid mistakes on the pitch.

This shift in mentality was on display in the first leg of Thursday's semifinal between Bengaluru FC and FC Pune City, which ended as a goalless draw at Pune's Balewadi Stadium. Having topped the league stage, Bengaluru now faces a must-win home leg.

As per the away goal rule -- where one away goal is counted as two goals -- Pune can make the final if it holds Bengaluru to a 1-1 draw, while a draw will send BFC out of the competition.

BFC coach Alberto Roca, observed, "We have a chance win at home and go to the final. It is our hands, my players have to keep going."

BFC ended the league stage on top by a huge margin (40 points, 18 games), besides leading in goal difference (+19), most wins (13). Four months of consistent performance will count for nothing if FCPC scores at the Kanteerva and then holds the host to a 1-1 draw.

READ: Bengaluru, Pune fail to breakthrough in first leg

The ISL rule treats the league and two-leg semifinals as separate competitions, four teams start with a clean slate and earlier victories do not matter. Roca pointed out, "We have to accept the away goal rule. In many places and many leagues, finishing first should give you some advantage, but here it is not possible. Honestly, I think after so good a season should we suffer for that (performances and victories in the league) and (as if) it goes against us?"

"The same (fate) applies to other teams. It is something for the federation to think about. For me, I know I have to win, my players know right now they have to win, have to score one more goal (than the opponent).  We have to believe in (our ability to achieve) that result," he added.

Roca and counterpart Ranko Popovic felt a tense first-leg semifinal ending in a draw was an acceptable outcome.

Asked to describe the emotions on the pitch, Roca said, "The game was full of scares. After weeks of working to get into the first four, there was panic in the players. Nobody wanted to make a mistake and concede a goal. It was a very tactical match and we have to see whether we are ready for the big challenge."

Popovic, on the other hand, said. "Everyone knows how much (is at stake). No team wants to make mistakes and lose the advantage," while adding, "I am really satisfied with the performance, not satisfied with the result (goalless draw). Both teams were more careful than nervous, I feel. The game was very competitive from both sides."

Looking ahead to the second-leg in BFC’s home base on March 11, the Serbian remarked, "We are going there to score the goal and win a game. If we want to go to the final, we have to play smart. When we play as a team, we can take on anyone."

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