Kathmandu: Mohammed Rafi's 88th minute strike secured Chennaiyin FC a 3-2 win over Manang Marshyangdi Club in a 2019 AFC Cup Group E clash on Wednesday.
The win, however, was not enough for Chennaiyin to finish as group winners, as Bangladesh's Abahani Limited Dhaka clinched top spot after beating Minerva Punjab 1-0 in the other Group E tie.
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Needing a win to have any chance of finishing as group winners, Chennaiyin started aggressively with Mohammed 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, while 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 Chennaiyin defenders were reminded to be alert as Oladipo continued to threaten their backline, and came extremely close when he chipped the ball over an incoming Karanjit Singh but Veriato diverted the goal-bound ball.
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 and Rafi combined in the 66th minute in a counter-attack, with Sabia Filho hitting the ball home.
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, there was only despair for Chennaiyin at the final whistle.
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