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AFC Champions League

ACL 2022: Valiant Mumbai City set new benchmark in Indian Football

9:09 AM IST 28/04/22
Mumbai City FC
The Islanders surpassed all expectations with their performance in the AFC Champions League

Ecstatic, euphoric, and exultant. The Mumbai City FC players were involved in a frenzied celebration on the pitch after they beat the mighty Air Force Club of Iraq in the AFC Champions League. On one hand, the Islanders had nothing to play for but pride, whereas their opponents had everything on the line. A win for Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya could have propelled them to the Round of 16 but Des Buckingham's men played spoilsport.

Mumbai played with their hearts on their sleeves and were dominating right from the first whistle. Lallianzuala Chhangte was a livewire on the wings and forced Mohammed Salih to make a save within the first 10 minutes. Meanwhile, Ahmed Jahouh and Lalengmawia Ralte provided the much-needed steel in midfield. Even after Diego Mauricio scored in the 31st minute, Mumbai refused to slow down.

One has to take a walk down memory lane to recollect when an Indian team played so fearlessly against a West-Asian opponent at the continental level. Although the Iraqi outfit came out firing on all cylinders in the second half, Mourtada Fall and co. weathered the storm by putting their bodies on the line. This was the second victory over Al-Quwa within three weeks, which further substantiates that the earlier victory was not a fluke.

Des Buckingham silences his critics

The AFC Champions League was a test of fire for Mumbai City and especially for coach Des Buckingham. After a disappointing outing in the Indian Super League (ISL) where they not only failed to defend the League Shield and the ISL trophy, the team also failed to make it to the playoffs. Hence, all eyes were on Mumbai's performances in the Champions League. The British tactician showed that he is flexible in his approach and can be both pragmatic as well as an adventurer, depending upon the merit of the opponent and the situation. It must be noted that Mumbai had also beaten Al Quwa Al Jawiya 2-1 in the reverse fixture earlier. They made a comeback to get the three points which speak volumes of the mentality that he has been able to instill in his squad. While other Indian teams in the past would have been happy just to equalise, Mumbai sustained the pressure and earned its rewards.

A record-making campaign

When Mumbai City won their match on April 11 they became the first Indian side to win a match in the Champions League. Rahul Bheke scored the winner with a powerful header which made him the first and only Indian to date to find the net in the marquee continental competition. The Islanders finished with seven points from six matches which is also the highest number of points that an Indian team has amassed in the Champions League group stage. If they had just one more point they could have made it to the knockout stage as well.

A benchmark for Indian football

In the Champions League, Indian clubs are grouped along with West-Asian opponents who are generally tactically and technically superior. Al-Quwa have won the AFC Cup thrice, Al-Jazira are the former GCC Champions League champions, whereas Al-Shabab are currently ranked 10th in the AFC Club Ranking index. To come second amongst these quality opponents is no mean feat. This achievement will serve as a benchmark in the coming years for other ISL outfits who should take heart from this performance.