United SC’s semi-final clash against Pune FC on Wednesday will probably not go down in Durand Cup history as an overtly interesting match but ultimately, the 2-0 win took the Kolkata side to the final, providing them with a chance to become the first team in nearly two decades to successfully defend their title.
It was James Singh who, rather outrageously, gave United SC the lead in the 29th minute. His corner-kick from the left curled into the net without a single touch along the way, but perhaps with a little help from striker Yusif Yakubu’s leap that distracted Pune FC custodian Shahinlal Meloly.
The goal was a wake-up call for Pune FC who settled down from the initial frenzy, the midfield looking more settled with Lester Fernandez and Maninder Singh making the runs into the United SC half to feed Karma Tsewang and Douhou Pierre up front but United SC centre-backs Bello Razzaq and Arnab Mondal performed admirably as they have through the course of the tournament.
“The central defenders were fantastic today. The team was incredible and James’s goal set it all rolling. I’m proud of the performance today,” said United SC coach Sanjay Sen after the match.
United SC had a chance to score one more seconds before half-time when Pune centre-back Chika Wali carelessly lost the ball to Brazilian forward Josimar Martins, who passed wide for Yakubu. The Ghanaian’s poor first touch somehow beat a diving Meloly but his chip just grazed the crossbar.
The proceedings did not change much in the second half with Pune seeing little of the ball for the first 20 minutes.
Kayne Vincent replaced a tiring Yakubu in the 79th minute and within a minute, the New Zealander made an impact, essaying a centre for Martins, whose run was unchecked by Wali, to slot between the sticks.
Pune had a chance to pull one back in the 83rd minute when United SC keeper Abhijeet Mondal spilled a routine long-ball which Shivalkar latched onto too late.
“They were the better side but I’m glad that the youngsters performed. This exposure will only strengthen the bench ahead of the I-League. I do regret it a little but the bigger picture is more important,” Pereira said.