Chennai City FC took on Bahrain side Al Riffa SC in the EKA Arena in Ahmedabad today in the Preliminary Round 1 of the AFC Champions League. The Tamil Nadu-based football side became the first team from the state to play in the top tier of the Asian club football ladder, but the match underlined the gulf in class between Indian sides and the rest of Asia with Riffa dominating major parts of the game and ultimately, winning it 1-0.
The match started with a slow pace with both sides trying to get a measure of each other before rolling out. Riffa however, soon began to show their pedigree as the 12-time Bahraini league winners got hold of the ball and the tempo of the game. Salih Ali, Riffa’s central midfielder was present all over the pitch while the likes of Haroun and Taher made life very difficult for Eslava and Co. at the back.
The away side looked especially threatening in linking up out wide and then cutting in, with Chennai City FC repeatedly saved either by a poor final pass or a last-ditch tackle. Ajith Kumar and Fito tried to make something happen for the home side but it was usually hacked down or cut off in midfield all through the first half. It was in the 40th minute that Riffa got their deserved lead, with Mahdi Abduljaffer netting the goal.
In the 2nd half, Chennai came out stronger with Katsumi Yusa and Raju trying to make things happen for the Indian side. They had better possession in midfield and even won a couple of corners, but their lack of creative talent with the departures of Pedro Manzi and Nestor Gordillo came to the fore repeatedly. Riffa was happy to sit back and defend but they unleashed several deadly counter attacks which were either cleared off the goal line or ricocheted off the crossbar.
All in all, they could have won the game by 4 or 5 goals but they did not and when the referee blew the final whistle, there was no question that the victory had gone to the right side. Riffa SC will now play their Prelims 2 on 21st January while Chennai City FC will focus on the I-League and ensuring they make as much progress as possible in the AFC Cup, where they will be most likely pitted with ISL champions Bengaluru FC in the same group.