Chennaiyin FC sealed their berth in the group stages of the AFC Cup 2019 after a narrow 1-0 win over Sri Lankan champions Colombo FC at the Trans stadia in Ahmedabad on Wednesday.
After a goalless affair in the first leg in Colombo, Chennaiyin had to find at least a goal and they did so, thanks to an opportunistic strike from Jeje Lalpekhlua (68'), who had enjoyed an otherwise frustrating evening.
Though Colombo FC largely frustrated the 2017-18 ISL champions, the intent and persistence finally paid off for John Gregory's team who will now join Minerva Punjab FC (IND), Abahani Dhaka (BAN) and Manang Marshyangdi Club (NEP) in Group E of the AFC Cup.
The match got off to a sedate start that saw Chennaiyin largely feeling Colombo out who looked to prioritise their defensive organisation.
The first real chance of the game, however, came from a swift counter-attack from Chennaiyin after a Colombo move broke down. CK Vineeth romped forward in the 15th minute before playing the ball to Thoi Singh down the right wing. But Issac Vanmalsawma, who was arriving at the far post, failed to turn the winger's cross in.
There were a couple of half-chances that fell Chennaiyin's way before Colombo almost sprang a surprise. A loose ball fell to Colombo midfielder Isaac Addevu inside the box who saw his fierce volley beaten out by Karanjit Singh. From the ensuing corner, Issac headed wide from close distance as alarm bells rang in the Chennaiyin defence.
Though Chennaiyin were enjoying the lion's share of the possession, Colombo were having a bit of joy in the counters. Just past the half-hour mark, Momas tested Karanjit with a shot from inside the box.
Chennaiyin tried to assert themselves in attack more as the half progressed. On one counter-attack, Issac picked out Thoi at the far post whose header was straight at the goalkeeper.
Chennaiyin FC, as expected, started the second half with intent. There was much more purpose and vigour about their passing as Colombo FC retreated deep into their half.
The Marina Machans started to find a lot of joy down the right wing and fashioend a couple of good chances. Vineeth broke on a counter and fed Thoi. He continued his run to meet Thoi's cross but just could not get a meaningful touch on it.
Vineeth was increasingly in the thick of things as the half wore on. Thoi picked out Vineeth with a low cross but he could only fire over after controlling the ball. Minutes later, Raphael Augusto won possession and jinked his way to the byline down the left wing. His eventual ball fell to Vineeth who saw his shot closed down at point-blank range by the Colombo FC goalkeeper Lakpriya Fernando.
But the sustained pressure finally paid off for the home team when Tondonba Singh sent in a teasing cross into the Colombo box. Chalana Chameera made a hash of a routine clearance and the ball fell to Jeje Lalpekhlua who lashed a finish home gleefully.
There was not much Colombo FC were able to offer going forward as they chased the game. They did throw on forward Mohamed Zarwan Johar but he could make little impact as Chennaiyin FC saw the game out comfortably.