The sweet taste of success after a prolonged drought turned sour for newly crowned Durand Cup champion Mohammedan Sporting, which was outplayed 3-1 by a 10-man Pune FC in the opening round of the I-League at the Salt Lake Stadium on Saturday.
Sporting, which won the Durand Cup barely a couple of days ago — its first major triumph in 26 years — started as favourite, but the resurgent Pune FC took the wind off its sails with a spectacular recovery.
Brace by Raul
Raul Ivan Fabiani, its Spain-born Equatorial Guinean import, scored a brace to give Pune FC a winning start to the tournament.
Australian James Meyer found the other goal for Pune FC, last year’s runner-up.
Mohammedan Sporting made a bright start, running up the early lead through Brazilian Joshimar da Silva in the 10th minute.
A long floater from defender Gagandeep Singh released da Silva unmarked inside the Pune box, and the tall Brazilian striker nodded the ball down before placing it past goalie Amrinder Singh.
Midfielder Ajay Singh missed the opportunity to double the lead in the 14th minute sending his attempt wide from close.
However, the battle-weary home team’s defence faltered in absence of its commander Luciano Sabrosa, who has been ruled out of action for three weeks after fracturing his arm during the Durand Cup final, and that became apparent in the way it surrendered the advantage.
In the 16th minute, Fabiani’s opportunism as a striker came to the fore after an attempt from his colleague Nikhil Kadam rebounded off the upright, and the teams were tied 1-1 going into the break.
With signs of fatigue from Sporting’s long Durand Cup campaign starting to show, the relatively fresh Pune FC went for the kill.
Mayer got Pune’s lead in the 51st minute tapping home a nice square pass from Fabiani.
Fabiani made it 3-1 in the 76th minute with a fine solo effort, and was immediately sent off as he lifted his jersey in celebration, which earned him his second booking of the match.
Pune FC managed to hold on for the remaining time, despite a tired unit’s desperate attempt to comeback.
Salgaocar posts win
Salgaocar FC surprised defending champion Churchill Brothers 1-0 in the opening leg match of the I-League in Mapusa.
Scottish striker Darryl Duffy scored the only goal of the match in the 42nd minute.
The result: Pune FC 3 (Raul Fabiani 16 & 76, James Meyer 51) bt Mohammedan Sporting 1 (Joshimar da Silva 10).
At Mapusa: Salgaocar FC 1 (Darryl Duffy 42) bt Churchill Brothers 0.
At Pune: Mumbai FC 1 (John Coutinho 45+1) drew with Sporting Clube de Goa 1 (Kalu Ogba 77).