Mohammed Rafi struck a last minute goal to snatch a 1-1 draw for Chennaiyin FC against Minerva Punjab in their penultimate group match of the AFC Cup here Wednesday but the result dented the team’s chances of qualifying for the knockout stage. Samuel Lalmuanpuia gave the ‘hosts’ Minerva the lead in the 62nd minute and the former I-League champions were on the verge of posting their maiden win in the AFC Cup, but Rafi shattered the Punjab side’s hopes by scoring the equaliser in 90th minute here at the India Gandhi Athletics Stadium here. With Abahani Dhaka beating Manang Marshyangdi of Nepal 5-0 in another Group E match in the Bangladesh capital, Chennaiyin dropped down to second place with eight points from five matches.
Abahani jumped to top spot with 10 points from five matches while Minerva, who have so far drawn all their five matches, are out of the tournament. If Chennaiyin have to qualify for the Inter-Zone play-off semifinals, they need to beat Manang Marshyangdi in their final group match in Kathmandu on June 26 and hope that Minerva either draw or lose against Abahani on the same day here. Only one team from the group will qualify for the Inter-Zone play-off semifinals and if Chhenaiyin and Abahani finish on equal points, the Indian Super League side will go through on better head-to-head record.
The match also saw Minerva goalkeeper Arshdeep Singh injuring his nose after a collision with Chennaiyin forward C K Vineeth in the first half and he was stretched off the venue and taken to a local hospital. Minerva owner Ranjit Bajaj told PTI that Arshdeep has suffered multiple fracture on his nose and he will need a surgery. “Arshdeep has multiple fractures on his nose. Though the CT scan result is clear and he has no head injury. He will need a surgery and will be out of action for at least two months. We have to decide where we will do the surgery in Chandigarh or Guwahati. It is unfortunate,” Bajaj said from Guwahati.
It was Chennaiyin who controlled the first half. Not only did they keep Minerva off the ball but also gave themselves several chances to score through the pair of Isaac Vanmalsawma and Anirudh Thapa. India midfileder Thapa found himself in a great position to score when he dodged past Kareem Omolaja Nurain as well as the Minerva custodian but was denied a final touch by a charging Robert Primus, who dispossessed him in the nick of time.
But Minerva began to claw their way back into the game towards the end of the first half and they were clearly the better side from then onward. An attempt by Moinuddin Khan in the 40th minute was stopped by Chennaiyin goalkeeper Karanjit Singh. A couple of minutes later, Lalmuanpuia stretched Karanjit with a long range shot. A similar effort just before half time by Amandeep Singh came off the bar and luckily for Chennaiyin, the rebound was not dealt well with.
In the 62nd minute, Lalmuanpuia finally broke the deadlock after his shot beat two defenders and a flying custodian Karanjit. Lalmuanpuia had another opportunity in the 70th minute, but instead of shooting, he passed it to Mahmoud Al Amnah who ran into a wall of defenders before getting dispossessed. A number of ambitious runs and long shots by Chennaiyin players dominated the final 10 minutes and the pressure eventually paid off when Rafi equalised in the 90th minute.