Anirudh Thapa led from the front to help Chennaiyin FC defeat NEROCA FC 2-0 and reach the quarterfinals of the Durand Cup at the Khuman Lampak Stadium on Monday, September 5.
The Chennaiyin FC captain scored a goal in the first half and set up another for Vafa Hakhamaneshi in the second as the Marina Machans eased past the hosts in their last Group C match. It was also Chennaiyin’s first clean sheet of the season.
Chennaiyin FC, needing to avoid a defeat against NEROCA to qualify for the knockouts, eventually finished second in their group behind Hyderabad FC with seven points from four matches. They have registered two wins, one draw and a loss so far.
Thomas Brdaric’s side will now face Mumbai City FC in the quarterfinals on September 11.
Chennaiyin FC made multiple changes to their starting XI on Monday. Debjit Majumder returned to goal, while fullback Ajith Kumar, midfielder Sajal Bag and winger Ninthoi Meetei made their way back into the team. Centre back Fallou Diagne also returned from suspension.
Chennaiyin FC started the game positively and got their first chance in the eighth minute. Ninthoi played a clever pass to Petar Sliskovic from the right wing. The Croatian striker tried to back-heel the ball into the net, but NEROCA goalkeeper Soram Poirei made the save.
However, Poirei had no chance seven minutes later when Thapa scored a brilliant goal. NEROCA defender David Simbo failed to clear a dangerous ball sent toward Sliskovic. Thapa followed the loose ball before controlling it with a lovely first touch and then unleashing a powerful right footer that got deflected for Chennaiyin FC’s first goal and the skipper’s second of the tournament.
The goal boosted Chennaiyin FC’s confidence as they moved around the ball comfortably before NEROCA striker John Chidi threatened to equalise in the 29th minute. Chidi outmuscled Vafa and tried to curl one in past Majumder, but he was off target.
Chennaiyin FC could have extended their lead in the 42nd minute through Julius Duker, but Poirei thwarted his intelligent header by tipping the ball over the upright.
The Marina Machans sealed the match in the 71st minute. Vafa found space between NEROCA defenders and headed home from a Thapa free-kick from the right. While it was Vafa’s second goal in the tournament, Thapa made an assist for the third time.
Chennaiyin FC defenders held firm for the rest of the match to ensure the win and the team’s progression to the last-eight.