The Chennaiyin FC U-18s lost 1-0 to Aizawl FC U-18s in the quarter finals of the Hero Elite League 2018-19 final round at the Don Bosco ground in Goa on Sunday. A goal behind at the break, CFC played the second half with ten men after defender Mohammed Sarif Khan was sent off in the first period after two bookable offences. This was CFC’s debut in the final round of the competition in just their second year of participation, after winning the Chennai zone with an unbeaten record of six wins and two draws. CFC were also the first side to qualify for the knockout stages of the final round, with wins in their first two group games against Reliance Foundation Young Champs (RFYC) and defending champions Shillong Lajong FC U-18s on January 28 and 30 respectively.
A challenging final round campaign provided another valuable experience in learning and development for the CFC U-18s. Along with Cuddalore-born J. Jaya Ruban who started all three group games, the CFC squad comprised eight other boys from Tamil Nadu. Pradap Balashanmugam (Vellore), Nishok G. (Ooty), R. Sathish Kumar (Chennai), Joy Kumar (Kanyakumari), Selvaniranjan C. (Dindigul) and Syed Jaabir Pasha (Chennai) also featured for CFC across their matches in the final round and garnered experience playing against talented opposition from around the country.
CFC made five changes to the side that lost 2-0 to Minerva Punjab FC U-18s’ in their final Group B game. Ajin Tom and Ajith Arasu came into the backline as Nishok and Pradap dropped to the bench. Yunush Shaikh and Sanjay S. too made way as Kartik Nayyar and Sathish came into the midfield, the latter making his first appearance in the final round. Striker Jaya Ruban too started from the bench as Aman Chetri came into the starting eleven. This was the same team that started the opening two group games, with the exception of Sathish instead of Jaya Ruban.
Chennaiyin began the match the better of the two sides and kept possession in the opening stages. Both Aman Chetri and Joysana Singh looked lively, but failed to conjure any danger in the final third.
On 16 minutes, Aizawl took the lead after CFC had given the ball away in midfield. A subsequent cross from the right flank was headed in by R. Lalthanmawia to give the team from Mizoram the lead.
Despite going behind, CFC continued to dominate possession. They won a flurry of corner kicks but failed to capitalize from any of them.
Then just before half-time, Chennaiyin suffered another setback as defender Mohammed Sarif Khan was sent off after receiving his second yellow card.
With the numerical advantage, Aizawl started well after the interval. CFC soon made a change as Kartik was replaced by Vellore boy Pradap in midfield.
Aizawl created a number of opportunities but CFC goalkeeper Prathamesh Honavarkar remained resolute between the sticks, thwarting the opponents on multiple instances in one-on-one situations. The keeper put in an impressive second half display to keep CFC in the game.
Chennaiyin did manage to create a few half chances through Aman and Hendry Antonay’s forays forward from the flanks, but their penetration in the final third was lacking.
Aizawl managed to hold on to their lead as Chennaiyin bowed out at the quarter-final stage after a narrow defeat.