Chennaiyin FC takes on Colombo FC in AFC Cup debut

Chennaiyin has travelled to Colombo for the first leg of the AFC Cup qualifying playoff round.

Chennaiyin FC Anirudh Thapa

Chennaiyin FC players training ahead of their AFC Cup match against Colombo FC.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Indian Super League side Chennaiyin FC takes on Sri Lanka’s Colombo FC in the 2019 AFC Cup qualifying playoff round first leg at the Colombo Race Course Ground here on Wednesday.

This is Chennaiyin’s debut AFC Cup campaign following its 2017-18 ISL title success and is placed along with Colombo FC in the South Asian Zone of the competition. Both teams are vying for a place in the group stage of the 2019 edition.

READ | Chennaiyin's 25-member squad for AFC Cup

Chennaiyin is coming on the back of a disappointing 2018-19 ISL where it managed only nine points from 18 matches and finishing tenth on the points table. Chennaiyin arrived in Colombo on Monday evening from Goa, having extended its stay there to prepare for the AFC Cup qualifying playoff against the Sri Lankan side.

“The boys are in good spirits, having arrived in Sri Lanka ahead of what is a very big game for us against Colombo FC. We are honoured to be the first Indian Super League team to have qualified for the AFC Cup, and are hopeful of securing a victory that puts us in a commanding position in the second leg. We are aware of the quality Colombo FC possess and expect a good fight from them tomorrow,” said Chennaiyin head coach John Gregory ahead of the first leg clash in Sri Lanka.

Nine players from the 25-man AFC Cup squad have featured in the competition on previous occasions with other clubs. Star striker Jeje Lalpekhlua, the most senior player in the CFC squad who has played in every season of the club's history, being one of them. The Mizo marksman has played against Colombo FC in the past, having turned out for Mohun Bagan in the 2017 AFC Cup preliminary round.

Chennaiyin welcomed back Indian midfielder Dhanpal Ganesh into the squad for the qualifying playoff against Colombo, after he missed out on the 2018-19 ISL season with a knee injury. Australian Chris Herd, who joined CFC in the January transfer window, will be the club's Asian player in the qualifier with the Brazilian trio of Mailson Alves, Eli Sabia and Raphael Augusto being the other three foreigners.

Four youth team players – defenders Hendry Antonay (U-18 & B team) and Reamsochung Aimol (B team), midfielder Zonunmawia (B team) and forward Bawlte Rohmingthanga (B team) have also been included in the squad.

Colombo defeated Bhutan’s Transport United 9-2 on aggregate in the preliminary round to set up the clash with Chennaiyin. This is Colombo’s second appearance in the AFC Cup, having lost 4-2 on aggregate to I-League side Mohun Bagan AC in the 2017 edition’s preliminary round. Colombo qualified for the 2019 edition’s preliminary round on the back of its third successive Sri Lankan top flight (Dialog Champions League) title in 2017-18. It finished as runner-up in the 2018-19 edition, which concluded recently.

The second leg of the qualifying playoff will be played at The Arena in Ahmedabad on March 13.

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