Chennaiyin FC will conclude their debut AFC Cup group stage campaign with a must-win clash against Nepals Manang Marshyangdi Club at the All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) complex here on Wednesday.
To progress to the 2019 AFC Cup knockout stage, Chennaiyin must beat Manang and hope Bangladesh's Abahani Limited Dhaka drop points against Minerva Punjab in the group's other game to be played at the same time in Guwahati.
Going into the final group match, Chennaiyin are in second with eight points while Abahani are at the top with 10 points. An Abahani victory will take them to 13 points, out of Chennaiyin's reach.
However, if Abahani draw against Minerva and if Chennaiyin beat Manang, both sides will finish on 11 points. In that eventuality, Chennaiyin will finish on top and qualify for the AFC Cup inter-zone semifinals, owing to a better head-to-head record against the Bangladeshi side.
The Chennaiyin backline will be boosted by Brazilian defender Eli Sabia's return from a one-match suspension, which saw him miss the 1-1 draw against Minerva last week.
Speaking at the official pre-match press conference, Chennaiyin head coach John Gregory underlined the importance of the task that lay ahead for his boys.
"Nothing less than a win matters now. The focus is on getting three points and hoping the other result goes our way in the match between Abahani and Minerva. Manang lost 0-5 to Abahani in their previous game and will thus have a point to prove against us. We know the pressure is on us, but the boys are prepared for it," Gregory said.
The match will be played on an artificial turf at the ANFA complex in Kathmandu.
Chennaiyin's English coach also commented on the role the pitch might possibly play in affecting the proceedings.
"We haven't yet played a match on an artificial pitch. It will be a new experience for many of our players. It's good that we get to practice on it one day prior to the match. The boys have to get used to the different bounce on the ball and those kind of things. Let's hope we deal with it well," said Gregory.
Accompanying Gregory was experienced former India midfielder Francisco Fernandes, who reiterated a victory against Manang will be the primary objective.
"It's a must-win game for us without doubt. For the result in the other match to matter, we have to win first. It is also the last game of the season, so we hope to win and finish on a high," said Fernandes, who has played in Nepal in the past along with the likes of teammate Jeje Lalpekhlua and Karanjit Singh during the 2013 SAFF Championship, in which India lost to Afghanistan in the final.
Nepal's A-Division League champions Manang will play for pride after being out of contention of the knockout stage with just two points to their name in their debut AFC Cup campaign.
In the corresponding fixture on matchday two, Chennaiyin beat Manang 2-0 courtesy goals from Mailson Alves and Chris Herd to notch their first AFC Cup group stage victory. Chennaiyin will aim for an encore and hope matters go their way in Guwahati in order to progress to the knockout stage.
( 550 Words)