Impressed by Mumbai City FC’s approach in AFC Champions League: Former Hero ISL players

Mumbai City FC completed an impressive AFC Champions League campaign as they finished second in their group that included seasoned teams like Al Shabab and Al Jazira.

Even though Mumbai City FC could not be among the top three best runners-up in the west zone and thus could not make the cut to the next round, they became the first Indian club to win an AFC Champions League group stage match when they beat Iraq’s Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya. They then repeated the feat in their final match as they beat the Iraqi side again to finish their campaign with seven points in their kitty, the most by any Indian side in the competition.

The Islanders’ gutsy approach to their first-ever campaign in Asia’s premier club competition left former Hero Indian Super League (ISL) players highly impressed by their showing in Saudi Arabia.

"They were very impressive. There was not much expectation from a team in its maiden appearance. Mumbai didn't put all their players behind the ball to defend and pick up a goal from set-pieces. Instead, they tried to play out from the back and build attacks," former footballer and Hero ISL expert, Darren Caldeira told News9 Sports.

"Barring one match (0-6 vs Al Shabab), they competed in rest of them, won two. They gave a fight, and margins were close. Against Al Shabab it was a bad day at the office but considering it was their maiden appearance they performed really well," former player Ishfaq Ahmed, now the assistant coach of Hero ISL 2021-22 runners-up Kerala Blasters, told News9 Sports.

"Competing against clubs of UAE, Iraq and Saudi Arabia is a good sign and with time Indian clubs will perform even better in these competitions. The more consistent Indian clubs become at the AFC competitions, the better it is for the national side as our players would be familiar with the standard of these West Asian players, who mostly play for top clubs of their country," Ahmed added.

Read: Fabulous Phurba, magnificent Mauricio, brave football: Takeaways from Mumbai City FC’s AFC Champions League campaign

Caldeira praised Mumbai City FC’s ability to remain in matches against more seasoned Asian competitors and praised their ability to make the most of the moments that came their way.

"It wasn't an easy group by any means but somehow one felt that Mumbai could have got something out of most of their games. Only in the Al Shabab games, we could see there was a major difference in quality and it showed," Caldeira said.

The former Kerala Blasters FC midfielder also heaped praise on Lalengmawia Ralte who showed impeccable composure in the centre of the park like he had been doing in the Hero ISL all season.

"The composure that Apuia showed on the ball was praiseworthy. He wasn't fazed if there were one or two players putting pressure on him. He seems so relaxed whenever he was on the ball," Caldeira said.

As for Ahmed, he was appreciative of the performance of Lallianzuala Chhangte who had joined Mumbai City FC in January.

"Apuia played well, Rahul Bheke too. Goalkeeper Phurba Lachenpa did commit few mistakes but overall he was impressive. Chhangte showed tremendous confidence and maturity level. Despite only moving to Mumbai in the January transfer window on loan, he looked ready to take on defenders. I am sure his finishing would improve with more game time. Even Mandar Rao Dessai left a mark," he said.

Mumbai City FC will take a lot out of their first Asian adventure. The experience is sure to serve them well and Des Buckingham’s side can be expected to mount a serious challenge for the Hero ISL crown next season.

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