Chennaiyin FC secured a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Bangladesh’s Abahani Limited Dhaka in their final 2019 AFC Cup Group E home encounter at The Arena Stadium. A deflected goal from Anirudh Thapa in the second half helped CFC bag all three points and consolidate top spot in the group. They are now on seven points after three games; three points clear of Abahani in second.
Abahani threw everything at CFC in the closing stages but the hosts held on for a valuable three points. The result also sees Chennaiyin keep three clean sheets in as many games in the AFC Cup group stages.
Chennaiyin will travel to Bangladesh for the reverse fixture in a fortnight on May 15. The group’s other game of matchday two will take place tomorrow Wednesday May 1 between Minerva Punjab, who are on two points and Nepal’s Manang Marshyangdi Club who are yet to open their account.
Chennaiyin made one change to the side that beat Nepal’s Manang Marshyangdi Club 2-0 in their previous fixture, with fan-favourite Dhanpal Ganesh replacing Germanpreet Singh in midfield. Experienced 36-year-old frontman Mohammed Rafi made a second consecutive start for CFC, alongside Jeje Lalpekhlua upfront.
Abahani had an early corner in the second minute after Eli Sabia cleared a long ball. Haitian forward Kervens Belfort rose the highest and glanced his header just wide of the post. Few minutes later, Belfort almost took advantage again after miscommunication at the back for CFC, only to bump into keeper Karanjit Singh as the latter cleared.
Chennaiyin slowly grew into the game and had their first big chance in the 20th minute. Anirudh Thapa was fouled in the Abahani box by midfielder Sohel Rana, for which the latter was cautioned. From the resulting set-piece, Thapa found CFC skipper Mailson Alves only for the Brazilian’s looping header to be saved by the keeper’s fingertips.
Chennaiyin were forced into a change on the half-hour mark when Australian midfielder Chris Herd was replaced by Germanpreet Singh, after picking up a knock in a coming together with Abahani striker Sunday Chizoba.
Jeje then had a meek attempt five minutes from the break, his shot wayward after some good build-up play between Germanpreet and Thapa.
Abahani had a goal disallowed two minutes later; forward Mohammad Nabib Ziban in an off-side position as he tapped in Masih Saighani’s flick-on.
It was an eventful end to the first period as Dhanpal Ganesh’s glancing header from a Jerry Lalrinzuala corner went just wide of the far post in added time.
It was a largely disjointed start to the second period from both sides, unable to conjure up anything much of note going forward.
The Bangladeshi visitors were forced into a change when midfielder Mohammad Atiqur Rahman was forced off with an injury, replaced by Mohammad Mamunul Islam. Mamunul interestingly was part of the ATK side that won the inaugural Indian Super League title in 2014.
After the hour mark, Ziban drew Karanjit into an easy save from a free-kick after Belfort was fouled by CFC right-back Laldinliana Renthlei.
Few minutes later, CFC made their second change of the evening as forward CK Vineeth replaced Jeje upfront. Mizo man Isaac Vanmalsawma also came on shortly after, for Rafi.
Chennaiyin continued to be a threat from set-pieces. corner from Isaac that Mailson again rose highest in the 75th minute, however his header went high above the crossbar.
Abahani made their final change thereafter as Jewel Rana came on for Rubel Miya on the flanks.
With the last ten minutes of normal time approaching, Chennaiyin broke the deadlock. A pinpoint ball from Isaac found Thapa’s diagonal run into the Abahani box. The CFC No. 15 controlled the ball and rushed towards the byline with a drop of the shoulder, managing to keep off two defenders before sending in a cross-cum-shot. It took a heavy deflection off Abahani’s Brazilian midfielder Wellington Priori, wrong-footing the keeper and sneaking in at the near post.
Abahani tried hard in the closing stages to equalize, but CFC held on for a valuable three points.