Raphael Augusto sank to his knees, Mailson Alves and Eli Sabia embraced each other and Tondonba Singh ran to celebrate with the travelling fans; emotions were on full display as Chennaiyin FC clinched a hard-fought 1-0 win over Colombo FC in its 2019 AFC Cup playoff clash on Wednesday.
Chennaiyin's win at The Arena by TransStadia propels it to the 2019 AFC Cup group stage, where it is placed alongside Minerva Punjab FC, Dhaka Abahani and Manang Marshyangdi Club in Group E.
Recap: Jeje sends Chennaiyin through to AFC Cup group stage
The home side hadn't scored in 408 minutes coming into the game and Jeje Lalpekhlua, who had scored scored the side's last goal, in a 2-1 win against Bengaluru FC in February, emerged the match-winner. Colombo defender Chalana Chameera struggled to clear a deceiving ball in from Tondonba which fell kindly to Jeje. The Mizo Sniper made no mistake with his first-time finish to bust the net in the 68th minute and wheel away in celebration.
The goal was a result of the enormous pressure Chennaiyin FC piled on the rival citadel. John Gregory's men kept the Colombo defence on tenterhooks by mounting a barrage of attacks, a refreshing change to its otherwise defensive tactics. Knowing full and well that a Colombo FC goal would mean a loss, owing to the away goal rule, Chennaiyin offered little space over the last 20 minutes and hogged the ball to ensure Karanjit Singh maintained a clean-sheet.
Chennaiyin had chances aplenty to score on the evening, but its finishing was found wanting on several occasions. Adding to it was the fact that the side's attack lacked variation, hardly playing any ground passes – close to all of its chances came off a lob or cross into the box, which was invariably cleared by the defence. Raphael Augusto, the team's most influential player this season, was the only one who was comfortable holding onto the ball and showed terrific composure to offer his side stability in midfield.
Though the win wasn't the most spectacular display, it gives Chennaiyin a rare taste of success after a disastrous Indian Super League campaign and will serve as a massive morale booster ahead of the Super Cup.
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