A solitary second half goal by Mizo striker Jeje Lalpekhlua helped Chennaiyin FC beat Colombo FC in the 2019 AFC Cup qualifying playoff 2nd leg at The Arena Stadium in Ahmedabad today. With the win, Chennaiyin FC became the first Indian Super League outfit to progress to the group stages of the AFC Cup in their debut campaign. Jeje thus also became Chennaiyin FC’s first ever goalscorer in the AFC Cup.
Chennaiyin FC will now be grouped along with South Asian clubs Minerva Punjab FC (India – I-League), Nepal’s Manang Marshyangdi Club and Bangladesh’s Abahani Limited Dhaka in Group E of the 2019 AFC Cup.
Australian Chris Herd returned from illness to start in midfield as Germanpreet Singh dropped to the bench. Thoi Singh and CK Vineeth also came into the starting lineup as Anirudh Thapa and Francisco Fernandes made way.
Chennaiyin FC got off to a lively start in what was a must-win encounter against the Sri Lankan side, winning a couple of corners in the opening minutes. Colombo FC found it difficult to get out of their own half as chants from the traveling Chennaiyin FC faithful filled the air.
A couple of aggressive tackles from both sides were deemed dangerous by the referee as Chalana Chameera and Chris Herd went into the book.
Chennaiyin FC’s first big chance came in the 14th minute on the break. CK Vineeth sprang clear in the Colombo half and freed Thoi on the right. The onrushing Isaac Vanmalsawma at the far post failed to connect with the resulting cross from the Manipuri winger.
With a quarter of the match gone, Colombo FC had a rare foray into the Chennaiyin FC box. The visitors’ midfielder Isaac Addevu had his shot from inside the box saved by Karanjit Singh in the Chennaiyin FC goal.
The referee then adjudged Chennaiyin FC right-back Laldinliana Renthlei to have played a back-pass to keeper Karanjit on the half-hour mark. The resulting indirect free-kick from Colombo was deflected out for a corner as Chennaiyin FC saw off a spell of pressure from the visitors.
The incisive pass in the final touch continued to elude Chennaiyin FC as the half drew to a close. Raphael’s chipped through ball for Jeje in the box was knocked down by the Mizo man for Thoi, the pass just a yard ahead of the latter as Colombo FC managed to clear.
It was a stop-start resumption to the second half, which suddenly sprang to life in the 52nd minute. It was Vineeth again leading the charge on the break, who used Thoi’s outlet on the right. Vineeth then ran into the box and failed to connect with the latter’s cross from six yards out with just the keeper to beat.
Chennaiyin FC continued to knock hard on the Colombo door in search of the elusive goal. Thoi was at it yet again on the right, this time dribbling into the box before his looped cross was cleared from close range. A minute later Thoi found Vineeth in the box, the forward taking a touch before firing just over the bar.
Colombo FC made the first change of the night as defender Afeel Mohamed made way for Mohamed Siraj.
Vineeth then had a huge chance to score with the hour mark gone. A cut-back from Raphael from the left fell kindly to the Kerala striker in the box, who took a touch and shot straight at the Colombo FC keeper, who managed to parry it away.
Midfielder Anirudh Thapa then came on for Thoi Singh as Chennaiyin FC continued to dominate.
The goal finally came in the 68th minute, courtesy a clipped ball into the box by left-back Tondonba Singh. The ball ricocheted off a Colombo defender and fell for Jeje Lalpekhlua, whose left-footed strike hit the back of the net.
Jeje is the senior-most and only Chennaiyin FC player to have been with the club in all five of years of its existence. He fittingly became the scorer of the club’s first ever goal in the AFC Cup.
Karanjit then made two quickfire saves to keep Colombo FC out, immediately after the opening goal. Chennaiyin FC dominated in the closing stages as Germanpreet Singh replaced CK Vineeth, but were unable to add to their tally as the game finished 1-0 in favour of the hosts.