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