Guwahati: Indian Super League outfit Chennaiyin FC drew 1-1 with I-League side Minerva Punjab in the 2019 AFC Cup Group E matchday five at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium here today. Mohammed Rafi’s 90th minute strike for CFC cancelled out Samuel Lalmuanpuia’s second half goal for the hosts. With this result, Chennaiyin drop to second in Group E with eight points as Bangladesh’s Abahani Limited Dhaka went top with a 5-0 win over Nepal’s Manang Marshyangdi Club in the group’s other fixture.
CFC travel to Nepal and face Manang in a must-win encounter in the final group game a week later Wednesday June 26th. Chennaiyin will also need Abahani to drop points against Minerva so as to top the group and qualify for the knockout stage.
Back in action after over a month, CFC made one change to the side that lost 3-2 to Abahani Dhaka in the last matchday in May. The suspended Brazilian Eli Sabia made way for Mizo defender Zohmingliana Ralte, who slotted in alongside CFC skipper Mailson Alves at the back.
Chennaiyin gaffer John Gregory also handed a first matchday involvement to youngsters Zonunmawia (19) and Reamsochung Aimol (19), who started on the bench. Zonunmawia has featured for the CFC U-18s and B team before he was named in the club’s 25-man ISL 2018-19 squad. As for Aimol, he featured for the CFC B team last season before a loan spell recently at AIFF developmental side Indian Arrows.
CFC striker CK Vineeth was handed an early caution, when he clashed with the onrushing Minerva keeper Arshdeep Singh while chasing a through ball. The goalkeeper sustained a knock to his face following the collision and had to be rushed for treatment in an ambulance. He was replaced by Bhaskar Roy in goal.
Thereafter, both sides were sloppy in possession, giving the ball away cheaply. It was a stop-start affair which Chennaiyin grew into, creating their first big chance with quarter of the game gone.
Isaac Vanmalsawma floated in an inviting ball at the far post, with midfielder Anirudh Thapa making a late run into the box. But Thapa’s first time volley only managed to find the side netting.
With CFC seeing more of the ball, Minerva resorted to playing the long ball, finding it difficult to break through the visitors’ ranks. With half hour gone, the referee called for a water break as both sides took a quick breather in the humid Guwahati conditions.
Thapa had another glorious chance moments after the restart, when he ran on to Nurain’s under-hit backpass for the keeper. The India international’s touch to round the keeper was a bit heavy as a Minerva defender cleared the lines frantically.
With half-time approaching, CFC custodian Karanjit Singh was called into action for the first time in the tie. Minerva striker Samuel Lalmuanpuia’s dipping shot from distance was tipped over by the keeper.
Into eight minutes of injury time at the end of the first half due to Arshdeep’s injury, Amandeep Singh’s long ranger beat Karanjit but clattered the upright as Minerva enjoyed a bright spell going into the break.
Chennaiyin continued to dominate after the break, creating a number of half chances with Thapa at the heart of the action. But CFC’s finishing was lacking as the game went past the hour mark.
Minerva then took the lead on the counter against the run of play through Samuel. The Minerva No. 9 carried the ball to the edge of the CFC box before slotting it into the bottom corner past Karanjit.
Into the last quarter of the match, CFC made two quickfire changes as Thoi Singh and Mohammed Rafi replaced Isaac and Francisco Fernandes respectively. And Germanpreet Singh came on for Vineeth into the last ten minutes of regulation time.
CFC kept chipping away at Minerva and eventually drew level on the stroke of 90 minutes through 37-year-old Mohammed Rafi. The second half substitute took a touch from Thapa’s cross from the left flank and blasted it into the top corner to make it 1-1. This was Rafi’s first goal of the season and third in the AFC Cup, having scored two goals for Mahindra United back in 2007.
Rafi then had a glorious opportunity in stoppage time to make it 2-1 from a similar opportunity, this time from a cross from the right. The striker’s right-footed volley went agonizingly high as it ended all square.