Chennaiyin FC would look to continue their winning streak and consolidate their position at the top when they take on Abahani Dhaka in their first away match of the AFC Cup on Wednesday.
A win at the Bangabandhu National Stadium will take Chennaiyin closer to the next round – the Inter-Zonal Play-off Semi-finals – and also widen the gap with other teams in the four-team Group E.
Chennaiyin are leading the group with seven points – with two wins and a draw – while Abahani are second with four points. All the four sides have played three matches each so far.
Minerva Punjab are third with three points while Nepalese outfit Manang Marshyangdi Club are at the bottom with just one point. Only the top team from the group will make it to the next round.
Chennaiyin had defeated Abahani by a solitary goal in their first leg match in Ahmedabad on April 30 and a win for the 2015 and 2017-18 Indian Super League champions on Wednesday will put them in a strong position to qualify for the next round with 10 points.
The John Gregory-coached Indian side began their AFC Cup campaign with a draw against Minerva and then notched up back-to-back victories against Manang Marshyangdi and Abahani. They would now look to carry their winning momentum further.
But the Chennai-based side, playing their debut AFC Cup, will have a tough match against Abahani as was evident in their last match. The Dhaka side will play at home and they will come out all guns blazing as a defeat on Wednesday will severely dent their chances of progressing further.
“We are here in Bangladesh to continue our good results so far in the group stage. We have managed to remain unbeaten and we have a tough game against Abahani. It probably represents our toughest and most crucial match for us in the group stage,” Gregory said at the customary pre-match press conference on Tuesday.
“Abahani were very hard to play against, in the reverse fixture in Ahmedabad. We were a tad bit fortunate to get the goal as well. So yes, we are looking forward to a difficult challenge. We look forward to adding some more points to our tally.”
Talking further about his side’s opponents, Gregory said, “Abahani are very strong. Especially their throw-ins are menacing. They also have a tall and physical presence from set-pieces.
“We do know about a few of their players like Wellington and Belfort whom we have faced in the Indian Super League before. Overall, they are a very good side. We do not underestimate them one bit.”
Anirudh Thapa had scored Chennaiyin’s only goal of the match against Abahani two weeks ago in Ahmedabd and midfielder will return to the same venue where India had lost to Maldives in the SAFF Cup final last year.
Thapa got to wear the captain’s armband at the SAFF Cup when he became the youngest player to take that responsibility.
“It still hurts and I have not been able to forget it to be honest. But the experience means that I know the ground and the conditions well and will try my best to do something special with the Chennaiyin team to replace that memory with a good one,” said the 21-year-old Chennaiyin and India midfielder.