Mumbai City FC vs Al Hilal in Group D of the AFC Champions League is perhaps the biggest match in the history of this Indian club. It’s not often that Des Buckingham’s goes into any game so clear, undisputed, but this one is. Even more so after going down 0-6 at the King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh a few weeks ago. Follow the game live here:
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The most successful club in Asian football (and the AFC Champions League) drew its roots from that game, as the scoreline shows the gap in quality between the two sides. Mumbai are sitting at the bottom of Group D, with zero points and have yet to score in this competition, while Al Hilal, who finished second last year, are leading with seven points.
The results, combined with the absence of Neymar Jr. due to his ACL injury, there has been a lot of excitement in this game, it is reported that tickets are being sold even at a reduced price. On the pitch, however, Mumbai are yet to face big names, with the likes of Kalidou Koulibaly, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Ruben Neves, Malcom and Yassine Bounou expected to feature (Sergej Milinkovic-Savic picked up a knee injury in Al Hilal’s win over Al Fateh at the weekend). Al Hilal have some of the best players from Saudi Arabia too, with AFC Player of the Year Salem Al-Dawsari also expected to start.
To compound Mumbai’s woes, Al-Hilal come into the game in excellent form – leading the Saudi Pro League table, four points ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo’s mighty Al Nassr. The Riyadh giants are unbeaten in the league and have won their last nine games in all competitions, scoring 24 goals and conceding just once in that time, to Al Ahli’s Allan Saint-Maximin. Jorge Jesus built an unstoppable juggernaut.
Des Buckingham was also building an unstoppable juggernaut of his own last year, but Mumbai have looked depressed this year – unbeaten in the Indian Super League but fourth in the table after draws against Odisha and Hyderabad. They needed a quick-fire double to overcome a 0-1 deficit against ISL’s Punjab FC to win their latest match, but some cracks appeared.
There will be no paper to hand at the DY Patil Stadium tonight, as Al Hilal can end Mumbai’s fading hopes with a win. Given that this is India’s last appearance in Asia’s premier football competition for a while (unless the country’s AFC collective performance improves), there is more than pride at stake.
What they say:
Des Buckingham, manager of Mumbai City FC:
I understand the reaction of the players when the teams were cheated. There were two reasons for their response. Firstly, it was because of the high level of Al Hilal and their impressive history in Asia. Players want to compete with the best, and this is also what coaches want.
There is no doubt that we will go into this game knowing full well that our ball handling will be limited, as well as the time we have with the ball. Additionally, we expect to have fewer opportunities compared to our normal performance in the ISL, due to obvious factors.
Jorge Jesus, manager of Al Hilal:
We want to share our excitement when we will be playing in India and seeing a developing country. It is a pleasure for us to be here. Yes, we know the enemy that we are a good team. It certainly won’t be the same – because our opponent will play at their best knowing that we will be among their fans. So, we expect a balanced game.
We wanted Neymar to visit India. It would be a great opportunity for all young footballers in India to get a chance to see him with their own eyes. So as we miss him, India was expecting or wanting to see him again.