Chennaiyin FC seek absolution in their AFC Cup debut
Two-time Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) champions, Chennaiyin FC, will make their debut in the AFC Cup against Sri Lanka’s Colombo FC in a two-legged qualifying playoff round at the Colombo Race Course Ground on Wednesday. The second-leg is scheduled to be played in a week’s time at The Arena Stadium in Ahmedabad.
John Gregory’s men come into the fixture following a dismal league campaign that saw them finish bottom of the table. The Men in Blue won just once in the last 11 matches with neither their defence or the attack functioning as it should have. Despite coming up against an already-qualified FC Goa in their final match, Gregory and Co. failed to assert control and looked like a disjointed team in dire need of a break.
The AFC Cup is, however, a different competition and offers Chennaiyin something different and entirely new to work on. An honest and positive debut campaign could go a long way in helping them rediscover their lost spark and make their name on the continental stage, besides something substantial to build on for the next Hero ISL season.
The return of Dhanpal Ganesh too, will be a bonus. The 27-year-old was an integral part of their title winning team of 2017-18, but a long-term knee injury kept him out of the entirety of the following campaign. His absence was one of the many reasons behind Chennaiyin’s bleak show in the league as it meant the more-creative Anirudh Thapa and Raphael Augusto had to settle for conservative roles.
Both players are included in the 25-man squad announced by Gregory. Mailson Alves, Eli Sabia and January signing, Chris Herd will be the other foreigners in the squad. CK Vineeth and Halicharan Narzary are also part of the travelling party, having joined from Kerala Blasters FC in January.
Based in the capital city, the team made its way to the continental stage with a hat-trick of league triumphs in the Dialog Champions League, Sri-Lanka’s top-flight football league. This season, they finished second and come on the back of a 9-2 aggregate mauling of Bhutan’s Transport United in the preliminary stage of the AFC Cup 2019. Having formed in April 2008, Colombo FC have since made a steep rise towards success, winning six Major titles apart from the hat-trick of league triumphs.
While Colombo have enjoyed recent success, Chennaiyin will be confident of attaining a positive result when they take to the pitch on Wednesday.