The 2019 AFC Cup group stage approaches its business end as table-toppers Chennaiyin FC (CFC) take on compatriots Minerva Punjab in the penultimate Group E game at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium on Wednesday.
Chennaiyin are ahead of Bangladesh's Abahani Limited Dhaka in the points table courtesy a better head-to-head record, with both sides locked on seven points from four games.
This will be Chennaiyin's second consecutive away game after having played their opening three group games at home. A win for the two-time Indian Super League (ISL) champions will help them inch closer to the knockout round, while an unbeaten Minerva will be looking for their first AFC Cup win to keep qualification hopes alive, having drawn all their four games so far.
In the group's other game later in the day, Abahani welcome Manang Marshyangdi Club from Nepal with the latter needing a win at all cost to stay alive in the competition after registering two draws and two losses so far.
Chennaiyin and Minerva will be in action after over a month, both their previous outings coming in the AFC Cup matchday three in May. Match fitness will be key in the humid Guwahati conditions in an afternoon kick-off, as they aim to hit the ground running in a crucial tie following the considerable break. And to ensure that, the Chennaiyin players were given a strict fitness and physical conditioning regime to follow in their time away.
"You might say we had a break (after our last game in May), but we actually didn't. Before we went away, we were given this big handbook on fitness and conditioning by our team. And we have ensured we stay fit and in shape. We are focused on getting all three points tomorrow (against Minerva) and inching closer to the knockout round," said CFC attacker CK Vineeth at the official pre-match press conference.
"The mood is very good in the camp. We have two important games coming up against Minerva (Punjab) and Manang (Marshyangdi) in Nepal. The professionalism that my boys have portrayed is first-class. And they are all aware of the task at hand. What is great is that it is in our hands. We control our destiny. If we win our two remaining group matches, we 100 per cent qualify for the knockout round. And if that happens, it will be a huge achievement for everyone associated with the club," said Chennaiyin FC head coach John Gregory.
In terms of team news, both sides will miss personnel in defence through suspension. CFC center-back Eli Sabia will be out after he picked up his second yellow card of the group stage against Abahani in the 3-2 defeat last month. And for Minerva, right-back Prateek Joshi will be absent after he saw red in the previous matchday at Manang, which ended 1-1.
The Chennaiyin gaffer has again aimed at giving exposure to youth, with defender Reamsochung Aimol (19), midfielder Zonunmawia (19) and striker Bawlte Rohmingthanga (20) part of the traveling party to Guwahati.
After the tie against Minerva in Guwahati, Chennaiyin travel to Nepal for their final group game scheduled for Wednesday June 26, against Manang Marshyangdi Club whom they beat 2-0 in the reverse fixture.
( 550 Words)