“Namaste, all okay? How are you? You're looking very smart,” Chennaiyin FC gaffer John Gregory politely says to the rival team's captain, Biraj Maharjan, as the two meet in the pre-match conference. Gregory is in quite the jolly mood, and understandably so. After a disastrous Indian Super League campaign, his men stormed to a six-game unbeaten spell, which came to an end when they lost to FC Goa in the Super Cup final a few days ago.
Chennaiyin now has the chance to get back on track when it takes on Manang Marshyangdi in the AFC Cup Group E clash at The Arena by TransStadia here on Wednesday. Chennaiyin is currently second in the table after it drew with Minerva Punjab FC in its first home game.
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The home side will come into the fixture with plenty of positives from its recent striking form. Anirudh Thapa has come good when it mattered the most – scoring two goals and delivering as many assists in his last three matches – and Dhanpal Ganesh and Jerry Lalrinzuala's return to the squad will further fortify Chennaiyin's defence, which has conceded only three goals in its last six matches in all competitions.
“The AFC cup has inspired us because of the stature it holds and we're very proud to represent our city Chennai and the country. The tournament has given us a good opportunity to restore some pride after a disappointing domestic season. We are looking forward to the match, everybody is in good condition physically and emotionally. We have a tough game tomorrow night, but we're ready,” said Gregory.
The Englishman added that Dhanpal's return to the squad would serve as a huge boost: “You can look back at the domestic season and say he was one of the guys we missed...and since he's come back our fortunes have improved and we look much stronger. We tried numerous permutations in his position, but it was very difficult to replace him. He has a big part to play in our five remaining matches.”
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Nepalese club Manang Marshyangdi comes into the tie after a 1-0 loss to Abahani Dhaka and sits at the bottom of the table. Coach Chirring Gurung stressed that his side had done its homework and is eager to claim its first points of the campaign. “We came here to get the three points and all players are ready for the win. We are well prepared for the game and I hope we win tomorrow,” he said.
“We played well (in our first match) but did not utilise our opportunities. We looked at our mistakes and have prepared to avoid repeating them tomorrow,” he added.
The winner takes it all in the AFC group stage – out of four teams, only the table-topper advances to the knockouts. A win on Wednesday would take Chennaiyin a step closer to that.
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