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Chennaiyin FC set for historic AFC Cup debut in Colombo
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Chennaiyin FC set for historic AFC Cup debut in Colombo

Colombo, Mar 5 : Two-time Indian Super League champions Chennaiyin FC take on Sri Lanka’s Colombo FC in the 2019 AFC Cup qualifying playoff round first leg at the Colombo Race Course Ground here on Wednesday.

This is Chennaiyin’s debut AFC Cup campaign following their 2017-18 ISL title success and is placed along with Colombo FC in the South Asian Zone of the competition. Chennaiyin are also the first ISL outfit to participate in the AFC Cup, with this qualifying tie against Colombo FC for a place in the group stage of the 2019 edition.

Chennaiyin concluded their 2018-19 ISL campaign with a 1-0 defeat to FC Goa last week, with the focus now shifting to their maiden AFC Cup campaign. Chennaiyin arrived in Colombo on Monday evening from Goa, having extended their stay there to prepare for the AFC Cup qualifying playoff against the Sri Lankan side.

“The boys are in good spirits, having arrived in Sri Lanka ahead of what is a very big game for us against Colombo FC. We are honoured to be the first Indian Super League team to have qualified for the AFC Cup, and are hopeful of securing a victory that puts us in a commanding position in the second leg. We are aware of the quality Colombo FC possess and expect a good fight from them tomorrow,” said Chennaiyin FC Head Coach John Gregory ahead of the first leg clash in Sri Lanka.

Nine players from the 25-man Chennaiyin FC AFC Cup squad have featured in the competition on previous occasions with other clubs. Star striker Jeje Lalpekhlua, the most senior player in the CFC squad who has played in every season of the club's history, being one of them. The Mizo marksman has played against Colombo FC in the past, having turned out for Mohun Bagan in the 2017 AFC Cup preliminary round.

"This is a historic match in the club's history, and we are optimistic about taking home a good result for the second leg. I remember facing Colombo FC with Mohun Bagan two years back and they are a very tough side. It is not going to be an easy game," added Chennaiyin FC striker Jeje Lakpekhlua.

Chennaiyin welcomed back Indian midfielder Dhanpal Ganesh into the squad for the qualifying playoff against Colombo, after he missed out on the 2018-19 ISL season with a knee injury. Australian Chris Herd, who joined CFC in the January transfer window, will be the club's Asian player in the qualifier with the Brazilian trio of Mailson Alves, Eli Sabia and Raphael Augusto being the other three foreigners.

Four youth team players – defenders Hendry Antonay (U-18 & B team) and Reamsochung Aimol (B team), midfielder Zonunmawia (B team) and forward Bawlte Rohmingthanga (B team) have also been included in the squad.

Colombo defeated Bhutan’s Transport United 9-2 on aggregate in the preliminary round to set up the clash with Chennaiyin. This is Colombo’s second appearance in the AFC Cup, having lost 4-2 on aggregate to Indian side Mohun Bagan AC in the 2017 edition’s preliminary round. Colombo qualified for the 2019 edition’s preliminary round on the back of their third successive Sri Lankan top flight (Dialog Champions League) title in 2017-18. They finished as runners up in the 2018-19 edition, which concluded recently.

The kick off at 3:30 PM IST.

The second leg of the qualifying playoff will be played at The Arena by TransStadia, Ahmedabad a week later Wednesday March 13, 2019 at 7:30 PM IST. (UNI)