CHENNAIYIN FC ARE ABOUT TO PLAY what is arguably the most important match in the club's history so far.
Undefeated in their AFC Cup 2019 campaign so far, they are facing off with their toughest rivals in the group, where a win will go a long way to enhance their chances of qualifying for the knockout stages.
Sitting on 7 points from 3 matches (2 wins and 1 draw with Minerva Punjab FC), the ISL 2017-18 winners have a 3 point lead over their nearest rivals Dhaka Abahani (4 points from 3 matches).
Only the group topper will qualify for the Inter-zone Play-off Semi-Finals, which makes taking a lead over the rest of the pack vital in ensuring qualification.
On 30th April, Chennaiyin FC faced Dhaka Abahani at their home leg encounter at Transtadia, Ahmedabad. The match was hard fought, but Anirudh Thapa's goal 79 minutes into the game gave Chennaiyin FC the victory.
But in the return leg, the match is being held at the Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka. This arena is notorious for being a tough battleground for away clubs. In 2017, Dhaka Abahani beat Bengaluru FC 2-0 and in 2018 bested Aizawl FC 1-0 in this very ground. So Chennaiyin FC are in for a battle to the finish.
Speaking to the media ahead of the game, Chennaiyin head coach John Gregory said that they are not taking the game lightly by any means,
"We are here in Bangladesh to continue our good results so far in the group stage. We have managed to remain unbeaten and we have a tough game against Abahani. It probably represents our toughest match in the group stage... it will be a hard game. We look forward to adding some more points to our tally."
Speaking about the opponents, he added,
"Abahani were very hard to play against, in the reverse fixture in Ahmedabad. We were a tad bit fortunate to get the goal as well. So yes, we are looking forward to a difficult challenge... we have had to remain focused given the gaps between matches. But the boys have been very professional in their approach and have put in the hard work."
Gregory shared his thoughts on how having just one qualification spot for AFC Cup knockouts makes the group stage a high-pressure affair,
"Every game is vital in the group stage. Every game matters. Tomorrow night's encounter against Abahani represents the most crucial game of the group stage so far. Abahani are very strong. Especially their throw-ins are menacing. They are also a tall and physical presence from set-pieces... we do know about a few players like Wellington & Belfort whom we have faced in the Indian Super League before. Overall, they are a very good side. We do not underestimate them one bit."
CFC winger Francisco Fernandes also vowed to give it his best to ensure the victory,
"It will be a tough game but we will be going for the victory. The conditions are similar to what we have back home. We will be prepared, will follow the coach's instructions and hope for the best... we all give our best for the team, till the very end. This is what we will do tomorrow against Abahani as one collective unit."
A win tomorrow will mean Chennaiyin FC have to simply pick up one victory (at best) from their remaining two games to make it into the knockouts. Succeeding to do that will have historcal significance as no club from Tamil Nadu has ever played in the knockout stages of the AFC Cup in the past.
The match kicks off tomorrow (15th May 2019) at 6:30 pm. Unfortunately for Indian football fans, there will be no live telecast of AFC Cup group stage matches for them to witness this potentially historic encounter. Live streams on the internet, however, are likely to be available.