AFC Cup 2019: Chennaiyin faces Manang Marshyangdi in must-win group clash

Chennaiyin FC is second in Group E and needs to win on Wednesday while hoping Abahani Limited Dhaka loses or draws against Minerva Punjab in the other group match to progress.

Chennaiyin FC players train at the All Nepal Football Association Complex on the eve of their match against Manang Marshyangdi.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Chennaiyin FC will conclude its AFC Cup group-stage campaign with a must-win clash against Nepal’s Manang Marshyangdi Club at the All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) Complex here on Wednesday. To progress to the 2019 AFC Cup knockout stage, Chennaiyin must beat Manang and hope Bangladesh’s Abahani Limited Dhaka drop points against Minerva Punjab in the group’s other match to be played at the same time in Guwahati.

Going into the final group match, Chennaiyin is second with eight points while Abahani is first with ten points. An Abahani victory will take it to 13 points, out of CFC’s reach. However, if Abahani draws against Minerva and if Chennaiyin beats Manang, then both sides finish on 11 points. In that case, Chennaiyin will finish top and qualify for the AFC Cup Inter-Zone semifinals as it has a better head-to-head record against the Bangladeshi side.

The Chennaiyin backline will be boosted by Brazilian defender Eli Sabia’s return from a one-match suspension, which saw him miss the 1-1 draw against Minerva last week. Head coach John Gregory underlined the importance of the task that lies ahead for his boys, speaking at the official pre-match press conference.

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“Nothing less than a win matters now. The focus is on getting three points and hoping the other result goes our way in the match between Abahani and Minerva. Manang lost 5-0 to Abahani in their previous game and will thus have a point to prove against us. We know the pressure is on us, but the boys are prepared for it,” said the Chennaiyin head coach.

The match will be played on an artificial turf at the ANFA Complex in Kathmandu. The Englishman also commented on the role the pitch might play in affecting the proceedings.

“We haven’t yet played a match on an artificial pitch. It will be a new experience for many of our players. It’s good that we get to practise on it one day prior to the match. The boys have to get used to the different bounce on the ball and those kind of things. Let’s hope we deal with it well,” said Gregory.

Accompanying Gregory was experienced Indian midfielder Francisco Fernandes, who reiterated a victory against Manang will be the primary objective.

“It’s a must-win game for us without doubt. For the result in the other match to matter, we have to ensure victory in our game first. It is also the last game of the season, so we hope to win and finish on a high,” said the former India international, who has played in Nepal in the past along with the likes of team-mates Jeje Lalpekhlua and Karanjit Singh during the 2013 SAFF Championship, which India lost to Afghanistan in the final.

“It’s been a long, long season for us. It has been a challenge to ensure players remains focused and fit. Everyone needs to be kept motivated. Sometimes you have to even guard against boredom when games aren’t coming thick and fast. But now most importantly, everyone is looking forward to hopefully beating Manang before the break,” reflected Gregory.

2018-19 Nepalese A-Division League champion Manang, which is out of contention for the knockout stage, will be playing for pride. In the matchday two fixture between the teams, Chennaiyin beat Manang 2-0 with goals from Mailson Alves and Chris Herd for its first AFC Cup group-stage victory.

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