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 at Guwahati on Wednesday but the result dented the team’s chances of qualifying for the knockout stages.
Samuel Lalmuanpuia gave Minerva the lead in the 62nd minute and the former I-League champions were on the verge of posting their first win in the AFC Cup. However, Rafi shattered the Punjab side’s hopes by scoring the equaliser in 90th minute here at the India Gandhi Athletics Stadium.
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 semi-finals, they need to beat Manang Marshyangdi of Nepal in their final group match in Kathmandu on June 26 and hope that Minerva either draw or lose against Abahani on the same day.
Only one team from the group will qualify for the Inter-Zone play-off semi-finals and if Chennaiyin and Abahani finish level on points, the two-time Indian Super League champions will go through on the basis of a better head-to-head record.
The match also saw Minerva goalkeeper Arshdeep Singh injuring his nose after a collision with Chennaiyin forward CK Vineeth in the first half, and he was stretched off the venue and taken to a local hospital.
Minerva owner Ranjit Bajaj said that Arshdeep Singh suffered multiple fractures on his nose and will need a surgery.
“Arshdeep has multiple fractures on his nose. Though the CT scan result is clear and he has no head injury,” Bajaj said. “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.”
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 and 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 Karanjit’s dive.
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 was the theme of the final 10 minutes and the pressure eventually paid off when Rafi equalised in the 90th minute.