Chennai City begins maiden AFC Cup campaign, hosts Maziya

Chennai City FC will begin its maiden AFC Cup campaign when it takes on Maldives' Maziya Sports and Recreation Club on Wednesday.

CHENNAI CITY FC

Chennai City FC players train on the eve of their AFC Cup group stage clash against Maziya Sports and Recreation Club.   -  R. Ragu

Chennai City FC will begin its maiden AFC Cup campaign on Wednesday when it hosts the Maldives’ Maziya Sports and Recreation Club at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here.

Chennai City, which stopped playing in its home city in 2017 over cost issues, returns to Tamil Nadu's capital for the home legs of its group-stage games as its stadium in Coimbatore did not meet Asian Football Confederation (AFC) norms.

The teams go into the game in varying moods. Maziya was crowned the champion of the Dhivehi Premier League, Maldives’ national league, last week, while CCFC’s draw with Mohun Bagan officially ended its I-League title defence.

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The Maldives champion returns to Indian shores for the second time in two weeks, having defeated last season’s Indian Super League champion Bengaluru FC in the AFC Cup playoffs on February 26.

“We do respect them as they beat Bengaluru, which is a very competitive team with strong players. We can not underestimate them,” said Chennai City FC coach Akbar Nawas on the eve of the game.

With the team currently placed seventh in the I-League table, Nawas is aiming to finish behind newly-crowned champion Mohun Bagan while hoping to make a positive mark in the continental competition.

“Being only Indian team (in AFC competitions) this year, we are motivated to do something,” he added.

Nawas’s Maziya counterpart Marjan Sekulovski is expecting a difficult game as it is the first one in the group stage and they “do not know the strength of all the teams” in the group.

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Sekulovski, though, added that his team has done its research. “We analysed their playing style and they are a good team. Their foreigners are good, so is the coach.”

While Chennai City plays a possession-based, easy-on-the-eye game, Nawas wants his team to also be consistent in results.

“We have a certain style we are associated with but the challenge now is to have continuity (in results),” he said. “We are well motivated and looking forward to tomorrow’s match.”

While Maziya isn’t new to the competition like the host, it has never progressed beyond the group stages or won against an Indian club. In six games (home and away), it has lost all but one game – a 1-1 draw with Mohun Bagan at home in 2016.

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