It took an exceptional finish in front of goal from midfielder Diego Carlos de Oliveira to deny Delhi Dynamos a winning start to its 2018-19 Indian Super League campaign in a neck-and-neck battle at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Wednesday.
Rana Gharami’s bolt from the blue in the 45 minute – an accurate, stunning, long-range strike – looked to have sealed the contest as both sides, with numerous chances, kept faltering in front of the goal for much of the contest, but Oliveira restored parity in the 88 minute.
There were plenty of look-ins via careful passes through the defence by both sides, but the finishing touch was sorely missing. Fans of the home team kept singing and chanting to rev up their team, but the excitement was repeatedly extinguished with poor finishing.
One of those numerous missed chances was in the 87 minute, forward Lallianzuala Chhangte found himself one-on-one with the Pune custodian Vishal Kaith, but could not beat him.
It proved costly. Dynamos’ defence was found napping the next minute when Oliveira and his allies found themselves on the left-hand side of the opposition goalpost. This time, however, the finishing was impeccable, Olivieira unleashing a fierce, left-footed strike past the goalkeeper.
It left the coach ruing the missed chances. After the draw, Gombau said, “I’m not happy with the result. We should have won.”
The assessment largely pertained to a dominant second-half performance from his side. Rene Mihelic hit a shot just wide in the 49 minute off a corner, during a phase when most of the action was in the Pune half of the pitch. Eighteen minutes later, Nandhakumar made a burst on the right and provided Andrija Kaludjerovic with a chance; the striker shot wide.
Despite what followed, a victory could have been ensured for Dynamos when there was a mad scramble for the ball in the Pune ‘D’. The ball had touched one of Pune’s defenders in the melee, but a penalty, which is what Gombau believed it should have been, was not given.
In the first half, this picture wasn’t clear. Pune conjured the first chance of the contest, in the fourth minute, Ashique taking advantage of a loose ball, and making an accurate cross just to miss the oncoming Alfaro.
Ashique continued his creative, maneouvering play. In the 13 minute, Alfaro almost scored when Ashique took the ball along the left and made another accurate cross. Alfaro’s attempt, this time, flew above the net.
Dynamos reciprocated by discovering holes in the opposition defence seven minutes later. Lallianzuala Chhangte and Nandhakumar Sekar were the protagonists. It took a defender, however, to break the deadlock.
From a seemingly innocuous position far away from Pune’s ‘D’, Gharami kicked hard with an arrow-like precision. The defenders, who clutched their heads, and the goalkeeper, were left watching.
It was a glorious moment for the 10,283-strong crowd, but proved inadequate eventually.