India’s Minerva Punjab FC and Chennaiyin FC are all set to make their debut in Asia’s premier club competitions in 2019, with the possibility of a face-off later on. Indian Super League champions Chennaiyin FC will make their debut in Asia through the 2019 AFC Cup, beginning with the play-off round in March next year. Minerva Punjab FC will attempt to become the first ever Indian club to enter the AFC Champions League group stage in the modern format of the tournament.
They will play their preliminary round knockout match against Iranian club Saipa FC on February 12, away from home. If they manage to win, they will face Al-Rayyan FC from Qatar in the playoff round on February 19, another away-from-home fixture. A victory there will guarantee them a place in the ACL group stage. Minerva Punjab will find a place in Group B, along with Al-Ittihad from Saudi Arabia, Al-Wahda from the United Arab Emirates and Lokomotiv Tashkent from Uzbekistan.
If they fail to qualify for the ACL group stage, they will play in the AFC Cup group stage instead, being placed in Group E.
With ISL getting recognition from the Asian Football Confederation as the ‘national knockout cup’ of India, Chennaiyin FC, winner of ISL 2017-18, will participate in the qualifiers for AFC Cup, the second tier club competition of Asia.
Chennaiyin is the first ISL franchise to qualify for the competition, progressing to the play-off stage in the first attempt after AFC announced a slot for ISL winners in 2017.
Both Minerva FC and Chennaiyin FC are among two of the most newly formed clubs participating in the 2019 AFC Cup.
Chennaiyin FC will play either Transport United or Colombo SC on March 6 away from home before hosting the second leg a week later on March 13. And if they overcome that challenge, CFC progress to Group E, which will comprise four clubs from South Asia.
If Chennaiyin FC progress to the group stage, they will be up against current I-League champions Minerva Punjab and representatives from Bangladesh and Nepal.
Minerva will feature only if they fail to progress to the AFC Champions League group stage. And the identity of clubs from Bangladesh and Nepal will be known closer to the group stage.
(With PTI Inputs)