AFC Cup offers Minerva, Chennaiyin chance to end season on positive note

Both champions last year, Chennaiyin finished at the bottom of the ISL table this season while Minerva finished 10th in the I-League, just above the relegated Shillong Lajong.

Chennaiyin FC players train ahead of the Super Cup tie against Minerva Punjab.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

This time last year, both teams were champions.

Minerva Punjab FC lifted the I-League trophy in March 2018, scripting a fairytale year for the club. A few days later, Chennaiyin FC became Indian Super League (ISL) champion for the second time, defeating a high-flying Bengaluru FC in the final.

However, Minerva and Chennaiyin find themselves in unfamiliar circumstances when they face off in the AFC Cup’s Group E opening fixture at the Arena Stadium in Ahmedabad on Sunday.

Chennaiyin finished at the bottom of the ISL table this season, recording just nine points – the lowest ever tally in the history of the competition. Minerva finished 10th in the I-League, just above the relegated Shillong Lajong.

But the AFC Cup offers both a chance to finish on a positive note.

“The team are in good shape physically and in a good place mentally and although we’ve had a tough season, the boys are still working hard, still got a smile on their faces and are also very aware that the AFC Cup presents a great opportunity to finish the season on a positive note,” said Chennaiyin coach John Gregory.

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Chennaiyin enters the game on the back of two consecutive victories – against Colombo FC in the AFC Cup playoffs and Mumbai City FC in the Hero Super Cup.

Chennaiyin FC coach John Gregory (Right) expressed confidence ahead of the AFC Cup match against Minerva Punjab.

 

But with Chennaiyin having to play its “home” matches in Ahmedabad, any incentives of a home advantage seem unlikely.

“Where we play the games is not down to the playing and coaching staff, unfortunately. That belongs to the management side of the club and we had no choice in the matter. But we’re here. We enjoyed playing here last time. The pitch is fantastic and the team is in a good shape and raring to go,” said Gregory. “And we’re really appreciative of the situation we're in considering there are 18 other teams from the country that would have liked to be in our position.

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“It’s not like a home game for them also, so it’ll be a 50:50 game for both of us,” said Minerva coach Sachin Badadhe when asked if his team was the underdog.

Minerva, which has had troubles in attack this season, has brought in attacking midfielder Samuel Lalmuanpuia on loan from Shillong Lajong. Robert Primus and Kareem Omolaja have been roped in to fortify its defence.

“Having Ganesh and Jerry back in full training, gives me two extra quality players to have on the pitch or on the bench. Really happy with the squad,” said coach Gregory.

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