Indian Super League side Mumbai City will start their maiden AFC Champions League campaign with a Group B match against Al Shabab of Saudi Arabia here on Friday. The 2021 Indian Super League champions have never gone up against Saudi Arabian side and both sides will look to make a mark in the continent’s top-tier club competition.
Des Buckingham’s Mumbai City will not only have to cope with first-time jitters but also manage expectations after FC Goa debuted for India in the competition last year. Buckingham, however, said Mumbai City are in Riyadh to chart their own history.
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“We are happy to be here, especially this being the second appearance for an Indian club in the AFC Champions League and the first participation for us, said Buckingham ahead of the match at the King Fahd International Stadium. Goa played in this competition before us and had three points from three draws and what that shows is that Indian players can compete at this level. We came here to compete and although there may be a gap between us and the Saudi Arabian club, we do have our strong points." Buckingham said his side will have to be smart in their approach to the match against Al Shabab. “We have done a lot of work coming into this tournament and it was good to see how Al Shabab play live here in Riyadh and we’ve identified some key aspects we can take advantage of. “Shabab are a very good team with technical players and we can’t give too many opportunities away." Mumbai City will have Rahul Bheke, Mourtada Fall, Mehtab Singh and Igor Angulo all at their disposal with only Rowlin Borges missing through injury. The 2022 edition will be the first time in seven years that Al Shabab will compete in the showpiece event, having finished bottom of their group in 2015.
Al Shabab have not been at their best domestically with the Riyadh-based club slipping to fourth in the Saudi Pro League, having drawn eight and lost eight matches. Despite head coach Marius Sumudica acknowledging their tough opponents in Group B, the Romanian is quietly confident of Shabab’s chances of progressing into the next round.
Every time we play in AFC Champions League, it has not been easy. We are in a difficult group with tough opponents. Nobody comes here just to make up numbers. Everybody wants to qualify. The first game is very important. We must start this tournament with a win," said Sumudica. Al Shabab have some talented players, including the likes of Argentine duo Ever Banega and Luciano Vietto as well as Brazilians Paulinho and Carlos.
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