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AFC Cup: Minerva Punjab suffer dramatic defeat; heartbreak for Chennaiyin FC

Minerva Punjab conceded an added-time goal to suffer a dramatic 0-1 defeat against Abahani Limited Dhaka. (Representational Image)

Minerva Punjab conceded an added-time goal to suffer a dramatic 0-1 defeat against Abahani Limited Dhaka and deny a maiden knock-out berth for Chennaiyin FC in the AFC Cup in Guwahati on Wednesday.

Masih Saighani struck the lone goal in the third minute of the added time, which rendered Chenniayin’s 3-2 win over Manang Marshyangdi Club of Nepal in a simultaneous Group E match in Guwahati. The win saw the Bangladesh club advancing to Inter-Zone Semifinals while breaking Minerva’s streak of five draws in the tournament.

A win was not enough for Chennaiyin and they needed favour from Minerva to book a knock-out berth in their maiden appearance in the AFC Cup. The Chennai-based side were hoping for either a win or a draw for Minerva against Abahani but the Dhaka side’s injury-time goal broke their hearts.

Abahani ended on top of the group with 13 points while Chennaiyin finished second with 11 points. On the same points, Chenniyin would have gone through as they have a better head-head record against Abahani.

Only the group winners qualify to the Inter-Zone Semifinals. Although Abahani head coach Mario Lemos had said his team would try to stop Minerva, the Bangladesh side did not shy away from attacking from the start.

The first opportunity, though, was created by the Minerva duo of Samuel Lalmuapuia and Makan Chote when the latter’s cross was headed goalwards by Samuel but without the desired result.

It was Abahani show in the first half with the likes of Kervens Belfort, Nabib Jibon and Saad Uddin putting pressure on the Minerva defence, which buckled on several occasions.

However, Abahani could not finish and Minerva custodian Bhaskar Roy rarely found it difficult to keep the shots fired at him at bay.

In the 34th minute, Uddin found himself in a good position outside the box but the subsequent left-footed shot was too weak to trouble the Minerva goalkeeper. Minutes later, the Abahani players were at it again and strung together passes that left the Minerva defence dazed. The end result again was a fairly disappointing effort from Sohel Rana that found itself straight into the goalkeeper’s gloves.

The 41st minute saw a Minerva attack almost coming to fruition but Moinudeen, who got hold of the loose ball with all the space and time to create a goal, ended up skying the shot from inside the box.

Action in the second half considerably slowed down with Abahani finding the odd chance to break into the Minerva half without any result.

A rare moment of excitement in the second half came late in the 84th minute through a set-piece opportunity for Minerva as Kalif Alhassan’s free-kick had the right power and direction but Mohd Alam rose to the occasion to parry it away for a corner.

Samuel and Moinudeen increased the pressure in the next few minutes, resulting in a melee in the box that culminated with a misdirected shot by the latter.

As the game was petering out to a draw, Saighani put a terrific header to score in added time to hand Abahani the match and a knock-out berth.

Heartbreak for Chennaiyin FC despite beating Manang Marshyangdi

Chennaiyin FC scored a last-gasp goal to beat Manang Marshyangdi Club of Nepal 3-2 in their final group match but fell short of clinching a maiden knock-out berth in the AFC Cup in Kathmandu on Wednesday.

The win at the ANFA Complex was not enough for Chennaiyin to progress to the Inter-Zone Semifinals, as Bangladesh’s Abahani Limited Dhaka clinched top spot after beating Minerva Punjab 1-0 in the other Group E tie in Guwahati.

The Chennai-based side’s fate was not solely in their hands and they were hoping for either a win or a draw for Minerva against Abahani to book a knock-out berth but the Dhaka side scored an injury time goal to notch up a 1-0 win and break Chennaiyin hearts.

Chennaiyin finished second in the group with 11 points from six matches while Abahani ended on top with 13 points to advance to the knock-out stage. On same points, Chenniyin would have gone through as they have a better head-head record against Abahani.

Only the group winners qualify to the Inter-Zone Semifinals. For Chennaiyin, Mohammed Rafi struck an 88th-minute winner after the two sides were locked 2-2.

Needing a win, Chennaiyin started aggressively with Rafi testing the Manang defence with a cross into the box in the first minute but there was no teammate to receive the ball.

Manang, bottom of the group, were looking to end their 2019 campaign on a high note and replied almost immediately with an effort of their own when Afeez Olawale Oladipo beat the offside trap to receive a pass but shot wide from close range.

Chennaiyin captain Mailson Veriato had a clear chance on goal when he connected with Isaac Vanmalsawma’s cross but failed to keep his header on target in the 18th minute.

Manang struggled to make their way into the final third as Abhishek Rijal tested goalkeeper Karanjit Singh with a long-range effort three minutes later.

The game remained goalless heading into the half-time break, mostly thanks to the slick saves of Manang custodian Bishal Shrestha, who denied Jerry Lalrinzuala’s strike from a tight angle with his left boot on 41 minutes.

Manang continued to make most of their efforts from over 30 yards out in the second half, with Bishal Rai’s curling strike missing the top left corner of the net by inches in the 49th minute.

Chennaiyin’s Anirudh Thapa had a glimpse of goal in the 53rd minute when a pass forward found him in the box but before he could let loose a strike, Shrestha’s sliding block deflected the ball over the frame.

Thapa, however, turned provider from the subsequent free-kick as Rafi headed home to break the deadlock. Eli Sabia Filho then made it 2-0 for Chennaiyin in the 66th minute from a counter-attack.

Manang refused to give up and Oladipo narrowed the deficit in the 71st minute as he finished a brilliant through pass.

Eight minutes later, substitute Bishwakarma Suraj’s cross found Oladipo at the edge of the box, and he outmuscled the Chennaiyin skipper before beating Shrestha again with a right-footed strike to draw his team level.

Chennaiyin were awarded a free-kick 30 yards out after Bishal Rai’s tackle on Vanmalsawma in the 87th minute, which he then curled into the box to Veriato who smacked his shot onto the post, only for Rafi to convert the deflected shot with his header to seal the win a minute later.

However, with Abahani scoring a late winner against Minerva in Guwahati, there was only despair for Chennaiyin at the final whistle.