ISL stage to check AFC com­bi­na­tion for Chen­naiyin

The New Indian Express - - SPORT - AYANTAN CHOWD­HURY

SATUR­DAY saw de­fend­ing ISL cham­pi­ons Chen­naiyin FC reg­is­ter their first home win of the sea­son af­ter beat­ing lead­ers Bengaluru FC 2-1. They might still be lan­guish­ing in last place, but the win comes at an im­por­tant time with the AFC Cup less than a month away. By virtue of win­ning the ISL last time around, John Gre­gory’s team en­tered the play-off stage of the con­ti­nen­tal com­pe­ti­tion. They will face ei­ther Colombo FC or Trans­port United of Bhutan in the first leg on March 6. With rules be­ing dif­fer­ent from ISL, they will have to chop and change. In the ISL, a team can have five for­eign­ers in the XI while AFC Cup reg­u­la­tions state this num­ber can be a max­i­mum of four, in­clud­ing one from Asia. The English coach has given this a fair amount of thought. Iron­i­cally, since his team can’t reach the ISL knock­outs, he can use the re­main­ing matches to home in on his ideal team for the AFC Cup. “We have seven for­eign­ers in the squad and ob­vi­ously they can­not all play be­cause of the rules. When we had a chance, I played five at the same time but now we will try and play four be­cause of both the AFC Cup and Su­per Cup. When we re­alised that the play-off is be­yond us, the at­ten­tion does drift over to these com­pe­ti­tions. We have put in place a few plans re­gard­ing com­po­si­tion. The fi­nal prepa­ra­tions will start once we have fig­ured out our op­po­si­tion.” Af­ter the de­par­ture of ex­pe­ri­enced de­fender Inigo Calderon, the team drafted in ver­sa­tile 29-year-old Aus­tralian Christo­pher Herd. He has played two matches so far and is el­i­gi­ble to play in the AFC Cup. “Herd is a tough cookie. We wanted that fire in mid­field ever since we lost Bikramjit Singh to Delhi Dy­namos and ob­vi­ously, we have missed Dhan­pal Ganesh. He qual­i­fies as our Asian player for AFC Cup,” the for­mer As­ton Villa boss added. There was more good news for the two-time ISL champs: Jeje Lalpekhlua broke a 330-day dry spell in the ISL to open his goals ac­count for the sea­son, fed by on-loan striker CK Vi­neeth, who had scored in the pre­vi­ous game. “CK played ex­cep­tion­ally well in a slightly dif­fer­ent role. He worked very hard and he has been over­looked a bit in Ker­ala last six months. Jeje came into the side and scored a great goal which is great for his con­fi­dence.” The win should help the team’s con­fi­dence too, given their dis­ap­point­ing run prior to that game. Along with build­ing on it in the three re­main­ing matches, Gre­gory will also be work­ing on com­bi­na­tion, for he needs to get both right in the matches to come.

D SAMPATHKUMAR

CK Vi­neeth (L) and Jeje Lalpekhlua’s (R) re­turn to form will boost Chen­naiyin FC ahead of their AFC Cup en­gage­ments in March |

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