Chennaiyin, Minerva play out goalless draw in AFC Cup 2019 Group Stage opener

Chennaiyin FC and Minerva Punjab FC played out a goalless draw in the AFC Cup 2019 Group Stage opener at The Arena by TransStadia in Ahmedabad on Wednesday. It was both club’s maiden appearance in the group stages of the continental competition.

Chennaiyin head Coach John Gregory opted to make three changes to the starting XI which beat Mumbai City FC 2-0 in the Hero Super Cup encounter last week. Anirudh Thapa, Isaac Vanmalsawma and Gregory Nelson made way for Thoi Singh, Halicharan Narzary and Raphael Augusto. Dhanpal Ganesh and Jerry Lalrinzuala began a second successive match from the bench, on their return from injury. For Minerva, all three of their new signings – forward Samuel Lalmuanpuia and defenders Kareem Nurain and Robert Primus started from the get-go.

After a slow opening few minutes, Chennaiyin seized control of the match and created a flurry of quick chances. The first big chance of the match fell to Jeje Lalpekhlua, but the striker’s shot was deflected out for a corner. Eli Sabia had an opportunity from the resulting set-piece but his header wasn't on target.

Soon after, striker CK Vineeth outmuscled Minerva's Mahmoud Al-Amna in the middle of the park and freed Thoi Singh on the right flank. The Manipuri winger found Jeje in the box, who laid it up for Raphael Augusto, but the Brazilian's shot sailed over the crossbar.

After the 25th minute, Minerva started coming back into the match. Ghanaian midfielder Kalif Alhassan’s shot from distance was parried away by Chennaiyin goalkeeper Karanjit Singh. A few minutes later, Samuel tested Karanjit with another shot from distance before Alhassan hit the upright with a header.

It became a tighter affair as the half progressed. Both sides continued to create inroads but the play in the final third lacked precision as it remained goalless at the break.

Minerva made a change soon after the restart, with Moinuddin replacing Prabhjot Singh. And Chennaiyin brought on Anirudh Thapa for Halicharan Narzary.

The first big chance of the second period fell Chennaiyin’s way on the hour mark when Thoi’s header from a Tondonba cross went wide of the far post. Chennaiyin continued creating the better of the chances but didn't manage to disturb the scoreline till the referee blew the final whistle. In the group’s other match, Bangladesh’s Abahani Limited Dhaka beat Nepal’s Manang Marshyangdi 1-0.

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