Table toppers Chennaiyin FC will be eager to seal a knockout berth when they take on compatriots Minerva Punjab in a AFC cup group stage clash on Wednesday. Chennaiyin are ahead of Bangladesh’s Abahani Limited Dhaka courtesy a better head-to-head record, with both sides locked on seven points from four games. This will be Chennaiyin’s second consecutive away game. A win for the two-time Indian Super League (ISL) champions will help them inch closer to the knockout round, while an unbeaten Minerva will be looking for their first AFC Cup win to keep qualification hopes alive, having drawn all their four games so far. Match fitness will be key in the humid Guwahati conditions in an afternoon kick-off, as the two side aim to hit the ground running in a crucial tie following the considerable break.
“You might say we had a break (after our last game in May), but we actually didn’t. Before we went away, we were given this big handbook on fitness and conditioning by our team. And we have ensured we stay fit and in shape. We are focused on getting all three points tomorrow (against Minerva) and inching closer to the knockout round,” said CFC’s CK Vineeth at the press conference ahead of the match.
“The mood is very good in the camp. We have two important games coming up against Minerva and Manang (Marshyangdi) in Nepal. The professionalism that my boys have portrayed is first class. And they are all aware of the task at hand. What is great is that it is in our hands. We control our destiny,” said CFC head coach John Gregory. “If we win our two remaining group matches, we 100% qualify for the knockout round. And if that happens, it will be a huge achievement for everyone associated with the club,” he added.
CFC center-back Eli Sabia will be out after the defender picked up his second yellow card of the group stage against Abahani last month. For Minerva, right-back Prateek Joshi will be absent after he saw red in the previous matchday at Manang, which ended 1-1. The Chennaiyin gaffer has again aimed at giving exposure to youth, with defender Reamsochung Aimol (19), midfielder Zonunmawia (19) and striker Bawlte Rohmingthanga (20) part of the travelling party to Guwahati.
After the tie against Minerva, Chennaiyin travel to Nepal for their final group game on June 26 in Nepal, against Manang Marshyangdi Club whom they had earlier defeated 2-0. In the group’s other game, Abahani welcome Nepalese club Manang Marshyangdi, the latter needing a win at all costs to stay alive in the competition after registering two draws and two losses so far.