Skipper Sunil Chhetri scored a hat-trick to guide debutants Bengaluru FC to the final of the Indian Super League (ISL) with a 3-1 victory over FC Pune City in their semi-final second leg tie here on Sunday.
With the first leg ending in a goalless draw, both teams had everything to play for at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium.
Chhetri first headed in Kumam Udanta Singh's cross in the 15th minute and then converted from the spot with a superb 'Panenka' kick in the 65th minute.
His third goal came after substitute Jonatan Lucca curled in a delectable free kick in the 82nd minute to give Pune a chance of a comeback.
Chhetri was dangerous from the outset. The hosts should have taken the lead just three minutes into the game had Chhetri not side netted Udanta's sublime cross from the left.
From the resultant corner, left-back Sahil Panwar shot over after being set up by Uruguayan Emiliano Alfaro.
For Bengaluru, who have just lost twice at home leaking only six goals, Udanta looked sharp and his pacy runs kept Panwar on tenterhooks.
The visitors looked good in possession and from one such move in-form Austrian midfielder Marko Stankovic got space on the edge of the box and tested Gurpreet, but the India No.1 custodian clawed the ball away for a corner.
Bengaluru took the lead moments later. Udanta capitalised on a failed clearance in the centre and picked out Chhetri who slalomed past a few Pune defenders to return the ball back to Udanta. The young winger then crossed for his captain who was unmarked and headed in past Kaith with the ball ballooning over the keeper and nestling into the net.
Marcelinho came close to equalising after being teed up by Alfaro but the Brazilian shot across the face of the goal.
Pune were getting frustrated as Bengaluru refused to take their foot off the gas. Carlos seemed the worst affected, showing poor sportsmanship in arguing with the referee despite being at fault for a rash tackle on Udanta near the touchline. Already on a booking, the 29-year-old was lucky to have not been sent off.
Chhetri got two more chances to extend his and the team's tally. First, visiting keeper Kaith got to the ball earlier from a one-on-one situation and then Chhetri headed just wide from a corner four minutes to halftime.
After the break, Pune coach Ranko Popovic drafted in Sarthak Golui in place of Panwar who was clearly not in his elements. Golui knew little then that he would cost his side a second goal, pushing Chhetri inside the area to give away a penalty five minutes after the hour-mark.
Chhetri stamped his class from the spot, clipping the ball delicately past Kaith.
Rahul Bheke could have put the match to bed three minutes later but his shot came off the woodwork before Chhetri brought out a good save from Kaith as Bengaluru looked in total control.
Lucca scored a goal to give hopes to the Pune camp but Chhetri put the match beyond doubt with a third on the night, taking his tally to 13 goals this season and sending the 24,214 strong crowd into raptures.
(Debayan Mukherjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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