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Chennaiyin FC secured a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Abahani Limited Dhaka of Bangladesh in the final 2019 AFC Cup Group E home encounter at The Arena Stadium, here on Tuesday.
A deflected goal from Anirudh Thapa in the second half helped Chennaiyin bag all three points and consolidate top spot in the group. They have now seven points from three games, three points clear of Abahani.
Abahani threw everything at Chennaiyin in the closing stages, but the hosts held on to the valuable three points. It also sees Chennaiyin keep three clean sheets in as many games in the AFC Cup group stages.
Chennaiyin will travel to Bangladesh for the reverse fixture on May 15. The group's other game of matchday two will be on Wednesday between Minerva Punjab, which have two points, and Nepal's Manang Marshyangdi Club yet to open their account.
Chennaiyin made one change to the side that beat Nepal's Manang Marshyangdi Club 2-0 in their previous fixture, with fan-favourite Dhanpal Ganesh replacing Germanpreet Singh in midfield. Experienced 36-year-old frontman Mohammed Rafi made a second consecutive start for Chennaiyin, alongside Jeje Lalpekhlua upfront.
Abahani had an early corner in the second minute after Eli Sabia cleared a long ball. Haitian forward Kervens Belfort jumped and glanced his header just wide of the post. Few minutes later, Belfort almost took advantage after miscommunication at the back for Chennaiyin, only to bump into keeper Karanjit Singh as the latter cleared the ball.
Chennaiyin slowly grew into the game and had their first big chance in the 20th minute. Anirudh Thapa was fouled in the Abahani box by midfielder Sohel Rana, for which the latter was warned. From the resulting set-piece, Thapa found Chennaiyin skipper Mailson Alves only for the Brazilian's looping header to be saved by the keeper's fingertips.
Chennaiyin were forced into a change on the half-hour mark when Australian midfielder Chris Herd was replaced by Germanpreet Singh, after picking up a knock in a coming together with Abahani striker Sunday Chizoba.
Jeje then had a meek attempt five minutes from the break, his shot wayward after some good build-up play between Germanpreet and Thapa. Abahani's goal was disallowed two minutes later as forward Mohammad Nabib Ziban was in an off-side position when he tapped in Masih Saighani's flick-on.
It was an eventful end to the first period as Dhanpal Ganesh's glancing header from a Jerry Lalrinzuala corner went just wide of the far post in added time.
It was a largely disjointed start to the second period from both sides, unable to conjure up anything much of note.
The visitors made a change when midfielder Mohammad Atiqur Rahman was forced off with an injury. He was replaced by Mohammad Mamunul Islam. Mamunul interestingly was part of the ATK side that won the inaugural Indian Super League title in 2014.
After the hour mark, Ziban drew Karanjit into an easy save from a free-kick after Belfort was fouled by CFC right-back Laldinliana Renthlei.
Few minutes later, Chennaiyin made their second change of the evening and forward CK Vineeth replaced Jeje upfront. Mizo man Isaac Vanmalsawma also came on shortly after, for Rafi.
Chennaiyin continued to be a threat from set-pieces corner from Isaac that Mailson again jumped the highest in the 75th minute. However, his header went high above the crossbar.
Abahani made their final change thereafter and Jewel Rana came in for Rubel Miya on the flanks.
With the last ten minutes of normal time approaching, Chennaiyin broke the deadlock. A pinpoint ball from Isaac found Thapa's diagonal run into the Abahani box.
The Chennaiyin No. 15 controlled the ball and rushed towards the byline with a drop of the shoulder, managing to keep off two defenders before sending in a cross-cum-shot. It took a heavy deflection off Abahani's Brazilian midfielder Wellington Priori, wrong-footing the keeper and sneaking in at the near post.