A stunning hat-trick by Sunil Chhetri saw Bengaluru FC beat Pune City FC 3-1 in the second leg of the semi-finals of the Indian Super League at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Sunday.
After a 0-0 draw in the first leg in Pune, Bengaluru FC knew that only an outright win would guarantee a place in the final. They controlled a large part of the game but were left nervously defending a 2-1 lead in the final moments before Chhetri ran clear of the trailing Pune defenders to finish authoritatively and send Bengaluru FC into the ISL final.
It was Chhetri who broke the deadlock in the tense semi-final after starting and finishing a sweeping counter-attack in which he held off defenders to play in Udanta Singh down the right. The industrious winger then crossed the ball into the box to find an unmarked Chhetri who headed it back across the keeper. The ball looped in, almost in slow motion, to give Bengaluru a deserved first-half lead.
In the second half, the Bengaluru skipper stole possession on the left-hand side before making a clever run into the box. Just when he was about to pull the trigger, he was pulled back by his Indian teammate Sarthak Golui to give the home side a penalty. Chhetri picked himself up and audaciously chipped a â€˜Panenkaâ€™ penalty to double Bengaluruâ€™s advantage.
The visitorsâ€™ rallied to pull the deficit back to one goal when substitute Jonatan Lucca curled in a sublime free-kick to give Pune a glimmer of hope.
But it was to be Chhetriâ€™s day as the striker streaked clear of Puneâ€™s Rohith Kumar to slot past the keeper and complete his hat-trick before jumping the barricade to celebrate in front of the fans at the stadiumâ€™s West Block.
The result means Bengaluru FC becomes the first team to qualify for the ISL final scheduled to be played on March 17 where they will play the winner of the second semi-final between Chennaiyin and Goa.
All praise for Chhetri
Heaping praise on the â€˜hat-trick heroâ€™, Bengaluru FC head coach Albert Roca on Sunday said that his captain defies age and always steps up in big matches.
â€œHe is simply outstanding and there are no words to define him," Roca told reporters at the post match press conference.
"In such an important game he stepped up. His age does not matter. He pushes others and shows amazing intensity," Roca added.
The Spaniard though pointed out that this is a team game and reaching the final in their first season in the ISL is credit to the backroom staff as well as the squad.
"This is a team game so not just him (Chhetri) but all the people around him did well. The squad, technical staff...all were there (with the team) in such an important game," Roca said.
â€œChhetri is the best player ever for India. He scored a superb hat-trick. We can only learn from him," Pune coach Ranko Popovic rued
"We tried to make the game difficult for them. That was our idea. We cannot be disappointed. It was a historical season for FC Pune City. Both goals (we conceded) due to inexperience. It's too much if we make such mistakes in conceding goals," Popovic added.