AFC Cup 2019: Keen to put disappointment of ISL behind them, John Gregory wants to lead Chennaiyin into AFC Cup
Chennaiyin FC stand a win away from entering the group stages of the 2019 AFC Cup. With the team enduring a season to forget in the Indian Super League this term, head coach John Gregory and his players have their eyes firmly set on the cup competitions.
Having earned entry into the qualification stage of the AFC Cup through their ISL triumph in 2017-18, the Blues from Chennai are gearing up to take on Sri Lankan side Colombo FC in the 2nd leg of their qualifying tie at The Arena by TransStadia in Ahmedabad on Wednesday. The first leg in Colombo ended in a 0-0 stalemate last week. With the tie evenly poised it's everything to play for.
Despite nothing to show for from the first leg, Gregory believes it to be a good result. Speaking to media ahead of the all-important second leg he said, “Happy to come away without conceding. They've won 3 back-to-back league titles and are very high on confidence after the 9-2 aggregate win over Transport United and were unplayable early in the first leg.”
Gregory felt his team also struggled with the conditions in Colombo: “Not easy going to Sri Lanka. The temperature was very high and we played at 3:30 in the afternoon. It was tough on our players; one of our players had a concussion and managed to play through with it. So for us it was a very difficult outing. It was a very good opportunity for them to beat us.”
Chennaiyin's difficulty with scoring goals this season has been well documented. The Blues only scored 16 goals from their 18 league games, less than a goal a game, which was the lowest among all teams this season, a fact not lost on Gregory. “We've not scored enough goals,” said Gregory. “The lesson for us is that we need a regular goalscorer and a regular creator. It's something the club needs to address in the summer,” he added.
Dhanapal Ganesh has been a big absence for the club in the heart of their midfield and there was much joy for fans when he was included in the 25-man AFC Cup squad. But the Chennaiyin coach wasn't too optimistic on his chances of featuring tomorrow: “He's here. He's made incredible strides and been ahead of schedule. We need to make sure he's 100% fit. But I doubt you'll see him tomorrow.”
His opposite number Ruwan Priyantha Kumara, coach of Colombo FC, also appeared comfortable with his team's position in the tie. “We arrived three days ago. The climate here is very good and we've had some good practice sessions."
On his team's plans for the game, Kumara said, "Every team would like to get an early goal, same for us. We also don't want to give away goals to them so we have planned to cover all possible angles of attack."
"We know their weaknesses and we have players to exploit them. They have not been playing that good this season so it's an advantage for us," he added.
Colombo FC came up short against Indian opposition in the preliminary stage of the 2017 AFC Cup as well when they lost 2-4 to Mohun Bagan. If Colombo win tomorrow they will become the first Sri Lankan side to make the group stages of the competition. Asked about what it would mean to them, Kumara said: "Will be a very proud achievement for us and Sri Lankan football. The popularity will go up."
Gregory is keen to leave Chennaiyin on a high having announced at the end of the ISL league phase that he will be leaving at the end of this season.
"I don't want to go away from here thinking about our ISL season. We are determined to progress in the AFC as well as the Super Cup later," added the Englishman before he signed off.