Chhetri’s brilliance breaks NEROCA’s resistance

Bengaluru FC occupied the last semi-final spot of the Hero Super Cup by beating NEROCA FC 3-1 at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Friday. A stunning hat-trick from captain Sunil Chhetri was enough to give the Blues the edge over the Hero I-League 2017-18 runners-up, who just had Pritam Singh’s sole goal to show for their efforts.

Bengaluru were in the ascendency from the very start, controlling possession for the most part and scored the opener in the 13th minute. Udanta Singh delivered a dangerous cross across the face of goal, which NEROCA custodian Lalit Thapa tried his best to clear away. But his parried effort fell on the path of Chhetri, who made no mistake to head it in.

NEROCA tried to claw their way back and were awarded a golden chance in the 18th minute, when Felix Odili Chidi found himself free in space inside the penalty box, but completely miscued his shot. A couple of minutes later, Bengaluru had an opportunity to double their lead, but Erik Paartalu failed to direct his free header on target.

With injury-time in progress, Bengaluru looked like entering the breather with the one-goal cushion, but NEROCA dramatically managed to equalise. Aryn Williams’ free-kick was poorly handled by Bengaluru custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in goal and the ball fell kindly for Pritam, who calmly slotted it home to ensure the teams entered the break tied at 1-1.

After conceding a goal late in the first period, Bengaluru started the second half with more intent and determination, and within 10 minutes, regained the lead through Chhetri again. The 33-year-old was brilliantly put through on goal by Miku, and he expertly controlled the ball before coolly finishing past a hapless Thapa.

NEROCA brought in fresh legs to aid the team forward and was almost at the brink of levelling proceedings, but Chidi failed to keep his free header on target from inside the penalty area. The Blues then sealed the win in injury-time, when Chhetri beautifully curled his shot to find the bottom corner past Thapa, to ring in his hattrick and set up a semi-final clash with Mohun Bagan.

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