Significantly weakened by the loss of star striker Pedro Manzi early this month, I-League champions Chennai City FC face Al Riffa SC of Bahrain in a preliminary round match of the AFC Champions League in Ahmedabad on Tuesday.
The Coimbatore-based Chennai City will be making their first foray in the preliminary stage of the elite club competition of the continent by virtue of winning the I-League last season, in which Spanish hitman Manzi scored 21 goals to emerge as the top scorer of the competition.
Chennai City sold Manzi to Japanese club Albirex Nilgata for a transfer fee reportedly touching Rs 1 crore, the highest earned by any Indian club ever for a single player’s sale.
They have roped in 19-year-old striker Jan Uzangu from FC Basel, with whom they signed a partnership deal last year.
Uzangu, however, will not be available for Tuesday’s match against Al Riffa at the Arena Stadium.
Al Riffa are one of the most successful clubs in Bahrain, having won the domestic top league 12 times. They have played in the AFC Champions League group stage twice earlier – in 1989 and 2004. They have made four appearances in the AFC Cup – Asia’s second tier club competition – with a semi-final appearance in 2010 being their best.
Akbar Nawas’ I-League defending champions have been struggling for form this season. After six matches, they have garnered just eight points from two wins, two draws and two losses to languish at the fourth place in the I-League table.
Adolfo Miranda Araujo, known as Fito, is the key player upfront for Chennai and he has scored twice so far. The midfield has been improving somewhat after a shaky start with the likes of Katsumi Yusa, Syed Suhail Pasha and P Raju making their presence felt.
The Chennai defence, though, has remained a weak spot and they have not had a clean sheet since they beat TRAU 1-0 in their first match back on December 1. They have conceded two goals each in the last three matches.
Al Riffa have been unbeaten in their last five matches with four wins, though they are are currently at seventh spot in the Bahraini Premier League table.
The winner of the match between Chennai City and Al Riffa will play against Shahr Khodro FC of Iran on January 21 in the preliminary second round, whose winner will take on Al Sailiya of Qatar in a play-off on January 28 for a place in the group stage of the AFC Champions League proper.