AFC Cup, Chennaiyin v Abahani Dhaka: John Gregory's men look to finish home campaign on a high in 'extremely hot' Ahmedabad
Chennaiyin FC play their final Group E home game of the AFC Cup on Tuesday when they host Abahani Limited Dhaka of Bangladesh at the The Arena Stadium in Ahmedabad. Having drawn 0-0 against Minerva Punjab in the first and beaten Manang Marshyangdi of Nepal 2-0 in the second, Chennaiyin are looking to finish their home campaign on a high.
They currently sit on 4 points, the same as their opponents on Tuesday, Abahani, but ahead on goal difference at the top of the table.
Chennaiyin coach John Gregory, speaking to the media ahead of the game, said that it is a fixture that his team "is looking forward to very much".
"This is our final home game. We are aware that we may not get these favoured conditions when we travel away.
"The pitches elsewhere may not be as good as the one here which can level out the teams. So it's imperative to get the three points tomorrow", said Gregory.
Chennaiyin have kept it tight at the back so far in the AFC Cup, going four games without conceding a goal (two legs against Colombo FC and the first two group games). In fact, going further back, Chennaiyin have kept seven clean sheets in their last 10 games across competitions.
"We've been defending resolutely. Mailson and Eli Sabia have struck up a good partnership. Jerry (Lalrinzuala) took a little while to get going coming back from injury, but he's now looking back to his best. And Dinliana has been improving game by game", exclaimed Gregory.
No Raphael Augusto for Chennaiyin FC
Chennaiyin will once again be without their Brazilian midfield general Raphael Augusto for the second game in a row, sidelined by knee trouble.
"He's having a clean up in his knee. He's been playing through pain for a while now which is a testament to him. But we hope to have him back with us soon as there's every chance he's back for the return game in Bangladesh", said the Englishman.
Gregory is likely to rely on veteran striker Mohammed Rafi again up front who had an impressive game against Manang, including setting up Chris Herd for the opening goal.
“We followed the coach’s instructions and strategy and managed to get a good result against Manang. Now the focus shifts to Abahani. Only a win will do and nothing else, that’s our objective,” said the experienced Kerala-born marksman.
The temperature in Ahmedabad has been in the low 40s of late with the mercury likely to rise further. "It has been incredibly hot! But the players have been working really hard to make sure they're in good condition", said Gregory about the conditions.
Looking to go all out: Abahani Dhaka coach Mario Lemos
Abahani coach Mario Lemos is also up for the contest, fully knowing the implications of three points for either side tomorrow.
"It's a crucial match if you want to get through the group phase," said the Portuguese coach.
Asked about how he plans to breach Chennaiyin's hitherto impregnable defence, Lemos said, "We've actually been scoring goals. My concern is defending. If we're not going to defend well, we are going to have a tough time."
Calling Chennaiyin, 'quality-wise, the best team in the group', Lemos said it was important for his players to 'not be afraid of the game' and 'keep their discipline'.
Abahani have two players in their ranks with experience at Indian clubs in Haitian Kervens Belfort (Kerala Blasters, Jamshedpur FC, Gokulam Kerala) and Brazilian Wellington Priori (NorthEast United, Jamshedpur FC). And Lemos said he's going to bank on their experience of playing against Chennaiyin during the game.
"I have players like Priori and Belfort who are confident and want to show their ability. I've spoken with Nelo Vingada who is a good friend of mine. They have given me some information as they know Chennaiyin's players more than me", Lemos mentioned.
Belfort, in particular, Lemos said is "very pumped to come back to India".
The Bangladeshi club will miss two of their frontline centre-backs in Tapu Barman and Tutul Hossain Badsha for the game against Chennaiyin FC.Published 29 Apr 2019, 20:09 IST