After finishing at the bottom of Indian Super League with an all-time league low tally of nine points, Chennaiyin FC now has a shot at redemption when it hosts Colombo FC in the second leg of its 2019 AFC Cup playoff stage qualification clash at The Arena by TransStadia here on Wednesday.
The Colombo Lions, which bagged three successive Sri Lanka Football Premier League titles from 2015-18, held Chennaiyin FC to a goalless draw in the first leg at home on March 6 and the tie now remains anybody's game.
Though his side lacked serious attacking intent in Colombo, Chennayin coach John Gregory felt it was important that the team did not concede. “It's good to come away from a difficult afternoon. It was a real opportunity for them to try and beat us and they made it really hard for us. The confidence isn't flowing with us [right now], but we need to step up tomorrow night. Our boys are geared up, hope we can get a victory,” he said in the pre-match conference.
The Englishman went on to add how the humid conditions took a toll on his players. “It wasn't easy for us going to Sri Lanka. The high temperatures and the pitch was a problem. The players suffered because of the heat and one player had a concussion in the first half and cannot remember the game at all!”
Australian defender Chris Herd, who missed the first leg owing to illness, is back in the squad and will give the team more stability at the back. Dhanpal Ganesh, who trained with a heavily strapped knee, was expected to feature in the tie but Gregory has ruled him out for Wednesday's game.
Colombo FC coach Ruwan Priyantha Kumara feels his side is in good stead heading into the must-win encounter. “We are happy that we came here three days ago and have had three practice sessions. We have 5-6 national team players and they know what they have to do. Both teams need goals tomorrow and hopefully we can go through to the group stage,” he said.
Kumara is on the cusp of making history as a win against Chennaiyin FC would make Colombo FC the first Sri Lankan team to reach the AFC Cup group stage. However, the odds don't exactly favour the visiting side. The last time Colombo had reached this stage in 2017, it lost 4-2 on aggregate to Mohun Bagan.
Kumara hopes to set the record straight on Wednesday. “We have come here step by step. We are three-time champions (Sri Lankan League) and have made a step by step improvement. We lost to Mohun Bagan the first time we played but gained experience from that game. We know Chennaiyin's weaknesses and we will play accordingly,” he said.
Jeje Lalpekhlua was part of the Bagan squad that prevailed over Colombo in that tie. Though he didn't score then, he will be eager to get on the scoresheet after a dismal ISL season that saw him score a lone goal.
Gregory reinstated that he has no plans of remaining with the club post this season. It might be extended a little longer if Chennaiyin FC advances to the group stage.
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