Colombo, March 5: Indian Super League (ISL) champions Chennaiyin FC will make their AFC Cup debut when they take on Sri Lanka's Colombo FC in a qualifying play-off round match here on Wednesday (March 6).
Chennaiyin are vying for a place in the group stage of the AFC Cup from the South Asian Zone. The Chennai-based side are coming in the first-leg tie at the Colombo Race Course Ground after concluding their 2018-19 ISL campaign with a 0-1 defeat to FC Goa last week.
"The boys are in good spirits, 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," said Chennaiyin FC Head Coach John Gregory ahead of the match.
"We are aware of the quality Colombo FC possess and expect a good fight from them tomorrow," he added.
Nine players from the 25-man Chennaiyin squad have featured in the competition on previous occasions with other clubs. Star India striker Jeje Lalpekhlua is the most senior player in the squad. The Mizo striker 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," said Jeje.
Chennaiyin will be bolstered by the comeback of Indian midfielder Dhanpal Ganesh for the qualifying play-off 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 and 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 FC defeated Bhutan's Transport United 9-2 on aggregate in the preliminary round to set up the clash with Chennaiyin. Colombo have five different players who found the back of the net so far in their qualifying campaign, but Tagne Dimitri would be the man to watch after scoring a hat-trick against Transport United.
This is Colombo's second appearance in the AFC Cup, having lost 2-4 on aggregate to Indian side Mohun Bagan 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 second leg of the qualifying play-off will be played at The Arena by TransStadia, Ahmedabad on March 13.
Match kicks off at 3:30pm IST