Chennaiyin FC will conclude their debut AFC Cup group stage campaign with a must-win clash against Nepal’s Manang Marshyangdi Club at the All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) Complex in Kathmandu on Wednesday with kick-off at 4 PM IST. To progress to the 2019 AFC Cup knockout stage, Chennaiyin must beat Manang and hope Bangladesh’s Abahani Limited Dhaka drop points against Minerva Punjab in the group’s other game to be played at the same time in Guwahati.
Going into the final group match, CFC are in second with eight points while Abahani are top with ten points. An Abahani victory will take them to 13 points, out of CFC’s reach. However if Abahani draw against Minerva and if CFC beat Manang, then both sides finish on 11 points. In that eventuality, Chennaiyin finish in top spot and qualify for the AFC Cup Inter-Zone semi-finals, owing to a better head-to-head record against the Bangladeshi side.
The Chennaiyin backline will be boosted by Brazilian defender Eli Sabia’s return from a one-match suspension, which saw him miss the 1-1 draw against Minerva last week. Head Coach John Gregory underlined the importance of the task that lay ahead for his boys, speaking at the official pre-match press conference.
“Nothing less than a win matters now. The focus is on getting three points and hoping the other result goes our way in the match between Abahani and Minerva. Manang lost 5-0 to Abahani in their previous game and will thus have a point to prove against us. We know the pressure is on us, but the boys are prepared for it,” said the Chennaiyin gaffer.
The match will be played on an artificial turf at the ANFA Complex in Kathmandu. The Englishman also commented on the role the pitch might possibly play in affecting the proceedings.
“We haven’t yet played a match on an artificial pitch. It will be a new experience for many of our players. It’s good that we get to practise on it one day prior to the match. The boys have to get used to the different bounce on the ball and those kind of things. Let’s hope we deal with it well,” said Gregory.
Accompanying Gregory was experienced Indian midfielder Francisco Fernandes, who reiterated a victory against Manang will be the primary objective.
“It’s a must-win game for us without doubt. For the result in the other match to matter, we have to ensure victory in our game first. It is also the last game of the season, so we hope to win and finish on a high,” said the former India international, who has played in Nepal in the past along with the likes of teammate Jeje Lalpekhlua and Karanjit Singh during the 2013 SAFF Championship, which India lost to Afghanistan in the final.
The match against Manang will mark an end to a long and challenging season for CFC. More than ten months back in August 2018, CFC commenced with pre-season in Malaysia, followed by a torrid 2018-19 Indian Super League title defence which saw them finish bottom of the table. Chennaiyin managed to salvage some pride thereafter by reaching the Super Cup final, where they lost to FC Goa.
“It’s been a long, long season for us. It has been a challenge to ensure players remains focused and fit. Everyone needs to be kept motivated. Sometimes you have to even guard against boredom when games aren’t coming thick and fast. But now most importantly, everyone is looking forward to hopefully beating Manang before the break,” reflected the CFC Head Coach.
2018-19 Nepalese A-Division League champions Manang will be playing for pride after being out of contention of the knockout stage, with just two points to their name in what is their debut AFC Cup campaign as well. In the corresponding fixture in matchday two, CFC beat Manang 2-0 courtesy goals from Mailson Alves and Chris Herd to notch their first AFC Cup group stage victory. Chennaiyin will be aiming for an encore and hoping matters go their way in Guwahati in order to progress to the knockout stage.