Unbeaten Group E table toppers Chennaiyin FC are on the road for the first time this 2019 AFC Cup group stage as they take on second place Abahani Limited Dhaka at the Bangabandhu National Stadium on Wednesday. The clash kicks off at 6:30pm IST with Chennaiyin FC aiming to do the double over Abahani Limited Dhaka, having beaten them 1-0 in the reverse fixture in Ahmedabad a fortnight back, through Anirudh Thapa’s deflected strike.
Midway through the group stage, Chennaiyin FC are on top with seven points while Abahani Limited Dhaka are second with four. Chennaiyin FC are the only club yet to concede a goal in this season’s AFC Cup, having kept five clean sheets so far, including the two-legged qualifying play-off against Colombo FC earlier in March. A win against Abahani Limited Dhaka will help them inch closer to the AFC Cup knockout rounds with two group games to go.
Chennaiyin FC arrived in Dhaka on Sunday evening and have acclimatized themselves to the humid conditions in the city. The visitors will want to get all three points in the first of three consecutive away games. Four weeks after this encounter, Chennaiyin FC play their penultimate group game at Minerva Punjab FC on June 19 before concluding their group stage campaign in Nepal against Manang on June 26.
Chennaiyin FC come into this tie with Head Coach John Gregory having signed a one-year contract extension last week. “The clash in Dhaka is our most crucial game in the AFC Cup yet, and we’re ready for it. There are no easy games in this competition and Abahani pose a difficult challenge with their physical presence. We’ve had to remain focused given the gaps between matches, but the boys have been extremely professional in their approach,” said the Chennaiyin FC gaffer as he aims to mark the new deal with a victory.
Keeping with Gregory’s words, Abahani Limited Dhaka will pose a serious challenge for Chennaiyin FC. They were a tough team to break down in the reverse fixture, proving a menace especially from set-pieces given their physical approach. They are currently second, midway through the Bangladesh Premier League campaign, four points adrift of the leaders. Their strike duo of Nigerian Sunday Chizoba and native Nabib Newaj Zibon lead the goalscoring charts with ten and nine goals respectively.
John was accompanied by experienced Goan winger Francisco Fernandes for the presser. The former India international shared his views ahead of the crucial Abahani Limited Dhaka encounter, “It’ll be a tough game, but we’ll be going for the win as always. The conditions are also similar to those back home. We will follow the coach’s instructions and give in our very best in what will be a vital clash.”
In-form Anirudh Thapa will be expected to feature in the Chennaiyin FC midfield along with Francisco. It was Thapa’s priceless deflected strike, his first ever AFC Cup goal, that proved the difference between both sides last time out. The 2017 All India Football Federation (AIFF) Emerging Player of The Year returns to the stadium where he became the youngest ever Indian captain at the age of 20, when he led them to a 2-0 win over Maldives in the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship held in Dhaka last year. Germanpreet Singh and Jerry Lalrinzuala from the current Chennaiyin FC squad also featured in the competition for India.
Elsewhere in the group, Minerva Punjab FC will take on Manang Marshyangdi on the same day in Nepal with kick-off at 2:45pm IST. Minerva Punjab FC have drawn all three of their games so far and are on three points while Manang are last with one point.