Manang go down 3-2 to finish winless in AFC CupLose to Indian Super League outfits Chennaiyin FC in the return leg despite Afeez heroics
Manang Marshyangdi Club signed off their AFC Cup campaign without a single win after losing 3-2 to Chennaiyin FC of India in their last Group ‘E’ match on Wednesday.
Already eliminated from a race to the second round, the Nepal’s top-tier league champions were hoping to end their campaign with a victory in the four-team pool of Asia’s second-tier club football competition. The hosts appeared to seal their fate after conceding two goals by the 65th minute. But Olawale Afeez, the MMC forward of Nigerian origin, struck twice to bring the home team back into the game at the ANFA Complex grounds in Satdobato. However, the Indian outfits had the last laugh as Mohammed Rafi scored the winning goal, his second of the match, two minutes from time.
The victory, however, could not ensure the Indian Super League runners-up a place in the next round as Dhaka Abahani of Bangladesh beat Minerva Punjab 1-0 to finish on top of table. Only the group winners progress to the next round, the inter zonal playoff semi-finals. MMC finished bottom of the table with two points, which they earned courtesy their two draws. They lost four other games in the tournament played under home-and-away format.
MMC’s home-and-away matches against Minerva had ended in draws. In all, MMC scored five goals and conceded 14 goals. Abahani with four wins, one draw and a defeat finished on top with 13 points, two points ahead of Chennaiyin. Minerva ended up in third with five points.
MMC coach Chhiring Lopsang Gurung said that the level of all three opponents were much higher than their club. “The other teams were highly professional and better in terms of quality than us,” said Lopsang Gurung. “Everything including management and technical staffs were highly professional than ours. We come nowhere near all the opponents in that respect. On the backdrop, I am very proud of my boys for putting up the competitive efforts in the tournament,” he said.
MCC were sluggish in the early exchanges but almost went ahead in the second minute when Afeez wasted an open chance, firing wide from the area. MMC survived a mighty scare in the 38th minute when Rafi was left unmarked to apply a free header which luckily sailed above the bar. Four minutes later MMC goalkeeper Bishal Shrestha denied Eli Sabia Filho’s attempt.
Both the teams upped their ante after the break and Bishal Rai threatened Chennaiyin with a powerful shot that went a whisker away from the target. In the 53rd minute, Bishal denied Anirudh Thapa in one-on-one encounter as the MMC custodian tipped the ball over the bar. Chennaiyin finally broke the deadlock from the resulting corner as Rafi was allowed a free header in Thapa’s cross following a short pass from the corner. The visitors were 2-0 up in the 65th when Eli rounded up goalkeeper and rolled a low ball in the open net after playing one-to-one pass with Rafi.
Olawale put up a dazzling show to score next two goals for home team. In the 71st minute, the Nigerian collected a through pass from Heman Gurung and sprinted a long way to beat Chennaiyin defenders with his pace before unleashing a powerful shot past advancing goalkeeper Karanjit Singh. Olawale made it 2-2 in the 79th after he beat Chennaiyin defender before finishing with a low drive at the far post. MMC even came closer to taking lead in the 86th minute but for forward Bimal Rana Magar to tap in wide from a close range.
MMC’s hope of rounding up the tournament with victory ended two minutes from the final whistle when Rafi slammed a powerful low drive after retrieving a rebound from skipper Mailson Veriato’s shot that had struck the woodwork.
Chennaiyin’s British coach John Gregory said his side lost the two-goal lead after taking the opponents lightly. “The players thought that the game was over after taking two-goal lead. The opponents almost took advantage of that,” said Greogry. “I knew playing here would be very difficult,” said Gregory whose team had won their home game 2-0 in Ahmadabad on April 17.