I-League side Shillong Lajong came back from a two-goal deficit to beat Indian Super League (ISL) giants FC Pune City 3-2 in a round of 16 clash in ongoing Super Cup on Wednesday. The minnows booked their place in the quarterfinals against all odds and once again proved that I-League teams are in no way inferior to ISL sides on the field.
Ranko Popovic’s side were favourites to win this tie having a much superior squad than Alison Kharsyntiew’s Lajong. With the likes of Diego Carlos, Marcelinho, Jonatan Lucca and Marko Stankovic in the team, the Stallions were expected to walk away with a comfortable win.
As expected, Pune were off to a flying start where they scored two world-class goals within 22 minutes. The first one was 35-yard free-kick from former AS Roma midfielder Jonatan Lucca and the second one came from the feet of Pune’s charismatic skipper Marcelinho.
But Lajong never gave up and pulled one back before the half-hour mark thanks to a strike from Abdoulaye Koffi.
Pune were undoubtedly the dominant side in the first half. Their young winger Ashique Kuruniyan was at fault for squandering the easiest of the goal scoring chances which could have settled the tie at the half-time itself.
The second half witnessed poor finishing from Pune and some resolute goalkeeping from Lajong goalkeeper Nidhin Lal. He single-handedly pulled off two brilliant saves and denied Diego Carlos and Lolo from scoring.
Pune were rightly punished in the 61st minute for missing too many easy chances when Rakesh Pradhan equalised from a brilliantly orchestrated counter-attack. In the dying moments of the match, Vishal Kaith brought down Koffi inside the box and Lajong skipper Samuel Lalmuanpuia scored the winning goal from the ensuing penalty.
After the match, Pune coach Ranko Popovic remained unperturbed by the fact that his side bowed out of the Super Cup. He refused to blame the poor pitch conditions due to heavy rainfall before the match. The Serbian gracefully wished Lajong all the luck and even claimed that he was just happy that he can now go back to his family for holidays.
“I will now go for a holiday now and go to my family to enjoy. I wish everyone all the best and I wish India make it to the World Cup one day. They should learn from the mistake they are doing now and try to improve from that,” said the coach when asked about the penalty decision.
Popovic’s attitude after the match pretty much sums up his side’s performance against the club from Shillong. It clearly indicates that the team had approached tournament with zero motivation and everyone including the coach were looking forward to ending the season as soon as possible.
The Stallions may have dominated proceedings in the game and enjoyed lion’s share of possession but Lajong looked hungrier and showed greater character in the game which helped them overturn a two-goal deficit.
Unlike some of the other ISL teams, Pune fielded all five foreigners, one more than opponents Lajong who had four overseas players on the pitch. But even with a better side and having two goals cushion, the Stallions failed to show any intent as the match progressed.
Who can now claim that the ISL clubs are superior to I-League clubs just because they spend more on players, infrastructure and matchday operations?