AFC Cup: Chennaiyin sneaks past Abahani Dhaka to top of group E

Abahani’s Wellington Priori deflected Anirudh Thapa’s zipped in cross into his own net in the 79th minute to give Chennaiyin the three points and remain in pole position in group E.

Chennaiyin FC captain Mailson Alves (27) put in a real shift on the night, using his power and aerial abilities to not let Belfort and Chizoba get an opening inside the box.   -  Special Arrangement

Chennaiyin FC sneaked in a lucky winner to defeat Abahani Dhaka 1-0 and take a big stride towards qualification from Group E in the AFC Cup at the Arena Stadium in Ahmedabad on Tuesday.

Abahani’s Wellington Priori deflected Anirudh Thapa’s zipped in cross into his own net in the 79th minute to give Chennaiyin the three points and remain in pole position in the group. However, the goal was credited to Thapa.

For the most part of the game, however, Chennaiyin didn’t seem to have the know-how to find that much-needed goal but its incessant pressure, in the end, paid off when Isaac Vanmalsawma and Thapa combined to conjure the winner.

For the best part of the opening 30 minutes, Chennaiyin moved the ball from side to side without posing much trouble to the visitor. The rather risk-free passing was easy for Abahani’s compact defence to deal with. Mohammed Rafi, who played well as a second striker in the last game against Manang Marshayangadi, was forced to the left wing. Rafi, 37, did not have the legs and struggled to get the better of Abahani’s right-back Rayhan Hasan.

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Abahani coach Mario Lemos had identified Chennaiyin’s threat from set-pieces during the pre-match and his side nearly fell behind to one in the 21st minute. A Mailson Alves header was goal bound from an Anirudh Thapa free kick and it required Sahidul Alam to fist the ball away on the dive for a corner. 

While Chennaiyin lacked pace in attack, Abahani was clever on the counter with iits quick-footed forwards. In one swift passing move, Abahani found itself breaching Chennaiyin’s final third in the opening thirty minutes but lacked the killer pass.

Abahani, too, provided a few scares from dead ball situations. A long throw-in was flicked into the path of Nabib Ziban to poke the ball into the net, but he was caught offside. Kervens Belfort was guilty of not hitting the target with his headers; one in the second minute of the game from a corner and the second in the 47th minute from a cross.

Striker Sunday Chizoba’s shot from outside the box appeared to be sneaking into the far corner and it required Mailson to throw his body on the line to block the effort. Skipper Mailson put in a real shift on the night, using his power and aerial abilities to not let Belfort and Chizoba get an opening inside Chennaiyin’s box.

Chennaiyin upped its tempo upon the introduction of Germpanpret Singh in place of the injured Chris Herd in the 30th minute and dominated play until the end of the game. Its second-half substitutions, C.K. Vineeth and Isaac, too, had an impact when they came on late in the second period.

John Gregory’s men piled the pressure in the final 20 minutes and Isaac crafted a ball in between Abahani’s midfield and defence to find Thapa. The India international’s cross on the run after turning away from goal was deflected past Alam by his own defender and into the net for the winning goal.

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