Chennaiyin FC would look to inch closer towards sealing a knockout berth when they take on Minerva Punjab in a crucial all-Indian Group ‘E’ clash of the 2019 AFC Cup at the Indira Gandhi Athletic stadium in Guwahati on Wednesday.
Table-toppers Chennayin are ahead of Bangladesh’s Abahani Limited Dhaka despite being locked on seven points from four games each, courtesy a better head-to-head record and will look to pull off a a win Wednesday.
This will be Chennaiyin’s second consecutive away game after having played their opening three group games at home.
A win for the two-time Indian Super League champions will help them inch closer to the knockout round, while an unbeaten Minerva will be eyeing a first AFC Cup win to keep qualification hopes alive, having drawn all their four games so far.
In the group’s other game of the day, Abahani will take on Nepal’s Manang Marshyangdi Club (at 5.15 pm), the latter needing a win at all costs to stay alive in the competition after registering two draws and two losses so far.
Chennaiyin and Minerva will be in action after over a month as both their previous outings were in May.
Match fitness will be key in humid conditions in an afternoon kick-off, as the teams aim to hit the ground running in a crucial tie following the long break.
The Chennaiyin players followed a strict fitness and physical conditioning regime during the break to stay in shape for the AFC Cup games, the team’s forward C K Vineeth said ahead of the match.
“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 (against Minerva) and inching closer to the knockout round,” he said.
Meanwhile, Chennayin head coach John Gregory said two important games were coming up and the players were aware of the task at hand.
“The mood is very good in the camp. We have two important games coming up against Minerva (Punjab) 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,” Gregory said.
“If we win our two remaining group matches, we will 100 per cent qualify for the knockout round. And if that happens, it will be a huge achievement for everyone associated with the club,” he added.
While Chennayin centre-back Eli Sabia will be out after he picked up his second yellow card of the group stage against Abahani in the 3-2 defeat last month, Minerva will miss the services of right-back Prateek Joshi, who received a red card in the previous match against Manang, which ended 1-1.
The Chennaiyin coach will be aiming to give the youngsters in the side a go, with defender Reamsochung Aimol (19), midfielder Zonunmawia (19) and striker Bawlte Rohmingthanga (20) part of the squad in Guwahati.
After the tie against Minerva, Chennayin will travel to Nepal for the final group game on June 26 against Manang Marshyangdi club whom it beat 2-0 in the reverse fixture.
Chennayin vs Minerva kicks off at 3 pm IST on Wednesday.