A second-half goal by India striker Jeje Lalpekhlua helped Chennaiyin FC beat Colombo FC by a solitary goal and secure a group stage sport of the AFC Cup here Wednesday.
With this win in the second leg of the qualifying play-off round at the Arena Stadium in Ahmedabad, Chennaiyin became the first Indian Super League outfit to progress to the group stages of the AFC Cup in their debut campaign.
The first leg match in Colombo on March 6 had ended in a goal-less draw.
Jeje, who found the net in the 68th minute, thus also became Chennaiyin’s first ever goal-scorer in the AFC Cup.
Chennaiyin will now be grouped along with 2017-18 I-League champions Minerva Punjab FC, Nepal’s Manang Marshyangdi Club and Bangladesh’s Abahani Limited Dhaka in Group E of the 2019 AFC Cup.
Chennaiyin got off to a lively start in their must-win encounter against the Sri Lankan side, winning a couple of corners in the opening minutes. Colombo found it difficult to get out of their own half.
Chennaiyin’s first big chance came in the 14th minute. C K Vineeth sprang clear in the Colombo half and freed Thoi on the right. The onrushing Isaac Vanmalsawma at the far post failed to connect with the resulting cross from the Manipuri winger.
With a quarter of the match gone, Colombo had a rare foray into the Chennaiyin box. The visitors’ midfielder Isaac Addevu had his shot from inside the box saved by Karanjit Singh in the Chennaiyin goal.
The referee then adjudged Chennaiyin right-back Laldinliana Renthlei to have played a back-pass to keeper Karanjit on the half-hour mark. The resulting indirect free-kick from Colombo was deflected out for a corner as Chennaiyin saw off a spell of pressure from the visitors.
The incisive pass in the final touch continued to elude Chennaiyin as first half drew to a close.
The second half suddenly sprang to life in the 52nd minute. It was Vineeth again leading the charge on the break, who used Thoi’s outlet on the right. Vineeth then ran into the box but failed to connect with a Thoi cross from six yards out with just the keeper to beat.
Chennaiyin continued to knock hard on the Colombo door in search of the elusive goal. Thoi was at it yet again on the right, this time dribbling into the box before his looped cross was cleared from close range.
A minute later, Thoi found Vineeth in the box and the forward took a touch before firing just over the bar.
Vineeth then had a big chance to score with the hour mark gone. A cut-back from Raphael from the left fell nicely to the Kerala striker in the box but the Colombo keeper managed to parry his shot.
The goal finally came in the 68th minute, courtesy a clipped ball into the box by left-back Tondonba Singh. The ball ricocheted off a Colombo defender and fell for Jeje Lalpekhlua, whose left-footed strike hit the back of the net.