ISL: It's now or never for FC Pune and BFC

The goalless draw at Pune – marked by conservative play - means that the stage is set for an exciting decider at Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru

Much is expected from FC Pune City’s prolific strike pair of Marcelinho and Emiliano Alfaro, who have scored 17 goals between them in this ISL season.   -  AP

After a tentative show in the first leg of the ISL semifinal, Bengaluru FC (BFC) and FC Pune City will be forced to lay it all on the line in the return leg here on Sunday.

The goalless draw at Pune – marked by conservative play - means that the stage is set for an exciting decider at Sree Kanteerava Stadium here. While BFC needs a victory to book a final berth, FC Pune City could set the cat among the pigeons by scoring an away goal.

In the event of another goalless draw, the fate of the match will be decided in extra-time and penalties.

FC Pune City and Bengaluru FC (BFC) both received a big boost ahead of their crucial fixture.

FC Pune City head-coach Ranko Popovic earned a late reprieve from the All India Football Federation (AIFF) Disciplinary Committee, which withdrew the interim suspension imposed on him. Popovic is now allowed to call the shots from the sidelines on Sunday.

A statement from AIFF Disciplinary Committee Chairman Ushanath Banerjee on Saturday evening mentioned that Popovic’s suspension is withdrawn “subject to FC Pune City providing in writing an undertaking that there would be not an iota of indiscipline on the part of Mr. Popovic, nor there would be any scope of complaint against him till final adjudication of the subject issue following hearing on March 16 (the eve of the ISL final).”

BFC also received a shot in the arm, with former assistant coach Carles Cuadrat making an unexpected return. Cuadrat, acknowledged as a set-piece expert, interacted with the players on Saturday. The Spaniard is helping the team on a temporary basis. Late last year, Cuadrat stepped down due to health concerns.

The significance of the occasion, for a club that is making its maiden ISL semifinal appearance was not lost on Grujic. “Sunday will be a very important day for our club. We know that BFC is the strongest team in India, but if we perform at our best, we can pull it off,” Grujic said.

Much is expected from FC Pune City’s prolific strike pair of Marcelinho and Emiliano Alfaro, who have scored 17 goals between them in this ISL season. “Marcelinho and Alfaro have been doing very well, but they have to score tomorrow. That’s all that matters now," Grujic said.

BFC, meanwhile, has to strike a fine balance between attack and defence. A win is imperative, but not at the cost of conceding an early goal. “We need a win, so it is in our hands. It is the same as playing in a final because you have to win a final to get the job done. We have to be ambitious in the attack. Yes, there is pressure, but our boys have competed in big games before,” head-coach Albert Roca said.

The home side is likely to enter the field without new signing Víctor Perez, who was added to the squad only a week ago. “Victor has a niggle, so he is doubtful. (Harmanjot) Khabra and Nishu (Kumar) are also out with injuries,” Roca stated.

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