Guwahati, June 19 (IANS) Indian Super League (ISL) outfit Chennaiyin FC drew 1-1 with I-League side Minerva Punjab in a Group E fixture of the AFC Cup at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium here on Wednesday.
Mohammed Rafi’s 90th minute strike for Chennaiyin cancelled out Samuel Lalmuanpuia’s second half goal for Minerva. With this result, Chennaiyin drop to second in Group E with eight points as Bangladesh’s Abahani Limited Dhaka went to the top with a 5-0 win over Nepal’s Manang Marshyangdi Club in the group’s other fixture.
Chennaiyin will now travel to Nepal and face Manang in a must-win encounter in the final group game on June 26. 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, Chennaiyin made one change to the side that lost 2-3 to Abahani Dhaka in the last matchday in May. The suspended Brazilian Eli Sabia made way for Mizo defender Zohmingliana Ralte, who was slotted in alongside Chennaiyin skipper Mailson Alves at the back.
Chennaiyin head coach 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 Chennaiyin U-18 and B teams before he was named in the club’s 25-man ISL 2018-19 squad. As for Aimol, he featured for the Chennaiyin B team last season before a loan spell recently at AIFF developmental side Indian Arrows.
Chennaiyin striker C.K. 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.
Thapa then had another glorious chance 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. Minerva striker Samuel Lalmuanpuia’s dipping shot from distance was tipped over by the keeper.
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.
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 but the striker’s right-footed volley went agonisingly high as the match ended all square.