PUNE: After a lackluster performance in back to back games, high flying Pune FC face rock bottom Sporting Club de Goa in the Round 7 game of the Hero I-League.

The Red Lizards who had scored 12 goals in their first five games have surprisingly failed to find the net in their last two games. Plagued by injuries, the Pune team was dealt with another blow in the opening minutes in the form of an injury to Darko Nikac. However, coach Karim Bencherifa was quick to point out that this would be used as an opportunity to test the depth of his squad.

“Yes, I’m sad to lose a player like Darko. But we have about 26 or 27 players who can at any point in time join the squad and take the place of the inured.  I have a big headache to select the eighteen players.”

The coach would be glad with the arrival of Anas Edathodika. His inclusion in the squad has bolstered the home team’s defense. This was validated by the fact that they were able to ward off wave after wave of the Dempo side’s attack and managed to barely get away with a point.

“We defended very well in the game against Dempo last week. We had a number of setbacks just before the game and had to make a few last minute changes. However, we adjusted to the situation well and hope to build on the positives from that game against Sporting,” said Karim on the sidelines of a training session at the Club’s Training Pitches in Mamurdi.

“Sporting will be a tough opponent with the names they have on their roster. They are bottom of the table, which makes it a must-win game for them and we need to be cautious in our approach,” added Coach Bencherifa.

Mateus Costa, the Sporting Club de Goa coach, on the other hand would have a lot of thinking to do. His side has been able to find the back of the net on only one occasion in their previous 5 outings.

Pune FC have a few minor niggles, with striker Nikac’s injury the only concern. The Montenegrin striker who suffered a foot injury early on in the game against Dempo has been working hard to come back but a decision will be made only on match day. Also Edgar Marcelino is out of action due to hamstring injury, but the coach posted a confident look.

“Our entire squad is fit and ready to play whenever the need arises. It’s definitely one of our strengths and this was proved in the last game,” he said.

The Goans are yet to register a win in this campaign as they find themselves at the bottom of the league. The only silver lining amid the dark clouds for his side would be the emergence of young defender Sandeep Jhingan.

The 21-year-old, who has been touted as one of India’s brightest prospects, has put in a couple of inspirational displays to earn his side valuable draws. The Flaming Oranje would look to capitalize on the Red Lizards’ bad patch as they continue to hunt for their first win this season.

While a win could take the home side back to the top of the table, 3 points for the visitors would be more vital for them since that would not only propel them to the 8th place but also would hand them a much needed boost in the confidence.

Match KO: Feb 21 @ 7 PM IST 

-I-League Media

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