Mumbai City eye history as they make AFC Champions League debut

Mumbai City FC endured a difficult outing in the latest edition of the Indian Super League (ISL), a campaign which exposed their inconsistency. The team got off to a flying start and scored 17 goals in the first six matches. However, fate soon took a U-turn and after a series of poor results, the defending champions eventually finished fifth on the points table.

However, as coach Des Buckingham said “what’s done is done”, the Islanders now look to enter a new competition, in fact a bigger one, with fresh but realistic ambitions.

Mumbai are all set to make their debut in the AFC Champions League, making them the second Indian club after FC Goa to feature in the elite Asian football tournament. The team will lock horns with Al-Shabab FC, a Saudi Arabian club, on Friday night, who if assessed by the current form appear to be the easiest opponent for Mumbai in their group.

The team will then face Air Force Club Iraq, who have won the competition on three previous occasions and then Al Jazira, who currently enjoy the third position in the Arabian Gulf League.

INTERVIEW | We don’t want to be here just to make up the numbers: Buckingham

Having observed the challenge from close quarters, coach Buckingham coins “relative success” as the goal Mumbai aim to chase in the continental tournament.

“We’re going to try and be the first Indian club that wins a game in the Champions League. That doesn’t mean that we’re going to be content and happy with that. That’s a starting point for us and then go from there,” the coach responded to a query by Hindustan Times about the objectives Mumbai look to gain from the campaign during a virtual press conference .

Illustrating it further, the coach added: “It’s trying to put a framework around what we do and how we do it. Because we need to be smart about how we approach these games because of the qualities that we will come up against. And it’s a great opportunity for people and players to show what they can do in a stadium, where we’re going to have fans for the first time in two years as well. So the experiences that will be gained will be wonderful one, but we want to take away some good memories from here in terms of performances and results as well.”

Bootcamp in Abu Dhabi

Leading to the tournament Mumbai have done their homework pretty well. Apart from their two-week training camp in Abu Dhabi, they’ve also got some match practice after engaging in two friendlies against Al Ain FC and Al Hilal United FC, which the Islanders won 2-1 and 2-0 respectively.

“We had two good friendlies, Al Ain especially. They’re an excellent team and played an extremely strong team against us. It gave us an opportunity to firstly see the level of competition and the level of the teams that we will be competing against.”

“The second game that we played gave us an opportunity to work on some shape and some structure that we’ve been trying to tidy up and make sure we can take it into the Champions League with us. Both of those are going to serve a great purpose for us going into not just our first game, but for the sixth across the Champions League,” said the coach.

Mood in the camp

Team’s vice captain Mandar Rao Dessai is equally aware of the uphill task Mumbai look to complete but backs his teammates, who are “excited and waiting for the first game”, to bring out the surprise element.

“The young players are really very excited to play and give their best. The most important thing is they always want to learn new things, they listen not only to me but all the senior players. All of us guide them so that they are more confident. Even when they make mistakes we just encourage them.”

“We just need to give a lot of confidence to them so they can help us because they are really young and can do a lot of things and surprise teams,” the defender said.

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