Chennaiyin make history as Jeje strike seals first-ever AFC Cup group-stage spot

Chennaiyin FC progressed to the group-stages of the AFC Cup for the first time in their history after beating Colombo FC 1-0 in the second-leg of the qualifying play-off at The Arena by TransStadia Stadium in Ahmedabad on Wednesday. They will be drawn in Group E of the final tournament along with Hero I-League side Minerva Punjab, Abahani Limited Dhaka and Manang Marshyangdi Club.

The onus was on the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) outfit to take the match to the Sri Lankan club after failing to grab an away goal in the first-leg of the tie a week ago. John Gregory made three changes to the team that started the match in Colombo, bringing in the likes of Thoi Singh and CK Vineeth in an attack-minded setup. Most of the first-half possession belonged to the Marina Machans with the visitors finding it difficult to cope with the silky Raphael Augusto who dictated most of the early play.

The match’s first real opening fell to the feet of Isaac Vanmalsawma after some great work by Vineeth and Thoi on the Chennaiyin right. The winger was, however, unable to time his kick despite having an unopposed sight at goal. Similar half-chances fell to the men in blue, but a lack of cutting edge meant that the Lankan unit went into the half-time break the happier of the two.

The second-half began on a similar note with Gregory’s men looking more menacing with each passing minute. The lively Vineeth should have put his team ahead 20 minutes into the second-45, after being well-found by some good play courtesy of Augusto and Jeje. With the entire goal to aim at, the striker thumped his shot straight at the Colombo goalkeeper to keep the match goalless.

The disappointment would although, vanish just minutes later when a hopeful Tondonba Singh cross caused all sorts of panic within the Colombo defense, whose clearance landed straight at the feet of Jeje. The striker made no mistake from 10 yards out, hitting an instinctive left-footed drive past the opposing keeper.

With their tails now up and a lead to back them, the Marina Machans exercised caution without sacrificing their dangerous attacking verve. There a few chances at the latter stages, but in the end, the Jeje striker proved to be enough.

After the win, a delighted and relieved Gregory shared his views on the match. “We have been looking forward to this AFC Cup campaign ardently. It is a result of huge significance to the city and our country. And now we have six group stage games to progress to the next stage of the competition.”

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