In what was a dramatic encounter in Kathmandu on Wednesday, the Indian Super League (ISL) club emerged victorious via a late goal from Mohammed Rafi but it was not enough as Minerva Punjab lost to the Bangladeshi club in Guwahati.
John Gregory made four changes in the Chennaiyin starting XI which had managed a 1-1 draw in their last game against Minerva Punjab. Brazilian centre back Eli Sabia returned to the lineup after a one-match suspension, replacing Zohmingliana Ralte.
Young side-back Aimol Reamsochung was introduced in place of Laldinliana Renthlei and Thoi Singh replaced Dhanapal Ganesh in midfield. Last match’s goal scorer Mohammed Rafi made his way into the side, replacing CK Vineeth.
The former ISL champions had to win in order to stand a chance of going through to the next round. As a result, the Marina Machans looked desperate for an early goal but the artificial turf in Kathmandu was not helping their cause as they found it difficult to keep control of the ball.
It was an evenly-contested first half with both teams getting their fair share of chances to take the lead but to no avail.
The deadlock was broken after the restart. In the 53rd minute, Mohammed Rafi headed the ball into the net from Anirudh Thapa’s floating corner.
Chennaiyin then doubled their lead in the 66th minute when Rafi found Eli Sabia inside the box with a brilliant through ball. The Brazilian found the net with aplomb.
Things were going well for the Indian side and they were on course to make it to the knockout stage. But the hosts pulled one back in the 71st minute through a quality strike by Afeez Olawale from Hemang Gurung’s pass.
Afeez Olawale then restored parity in the match with another strike from the edge of the box in the 79th minute.
Rafi did what he does best to save the blushes and restore his team's lead late in the game. The Malayali striker struck in the 88th minute to keep Chennaiyin’s hopes alive but group leaders Abahani Dhaka's win against Minerva Punjab crushed Chennaiyin's hopes of qualification.