Mumbai City FC star Mandar Rao Dessai is optimistic yet cautious regarding their upcoming AFC Champions League campaign, which begins on April 8, against Saudi Arabia-based club Al-Shabab at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Having failed to successfully defend their crown in the recently concluded Hero ISL 2021-22, the Islanders eventually finished at the fifth spot, with 31 points from 20 matches. However, the squad is now focused on the elite continental event, with a golden opportunity to become the first ever Indian club to win a match in the group stages of the tournament.

Desai addressed the questions of the media ahead of Friday’s game during the pre-match press conference.

Here are the excerpts from the press conference:

How do you evaluate your season with Mumbai City FC on a personal basis? Did you have any goals and objectives and did you achieve that?

Yes, whenever we start a season, you know, we always expect to give our best throughout the season. We want our team to perform well and help the team to win games. I think that’s the most important thing for me. Whenever I get my chance, I think I have given my best and that has always been my goal. In the AFC Champions League also, I have the same goals.

Has your mental preparation been different for the AFC Champions League compared to the Hero ISL?

Yeah, it is completely different from our league games. This is at a different level, it is the Champions League. The quality is better and I think we have to prepare in a different way. All the players are excited and just waiting for the first game, so that we can do better.

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How do you take this as an opportunity to represent the country, the team as well in the AFC Champions League and what are the things you are looking forward to in the tournament?

All the players are really excited as I said before, so we want to start the campaign on a good note, in a positive way, so that we get some positive results in the competition. That’s what all the fans want from us. So, right now we are just looking forward to the first game. We have been preparing for the last two-three weeks and it’s been good playing two friendlies. Now, it is time for the games, so we are ready for it.

There are many young players who impressed for Mumbai City FC in the Hero ISL 2021-22, but this is a different level altogether. What role do you think you can play as a vice-captain to encourage them?

The young players are very excited to play, to give their best. The most important thing is that they want to learn new things, they want to listen, not only to me but all the senior players. And all of us guide them, so that they have more confidence. Even when they make mistakes, we try to encourage them. In this competition we might not have major ball possession, but we need to give confidence to the youngsters so that they can help us.

Could you tell us about the mood in the dressing room ahead of the first game? This was something you guys knew you were going to compete in?

The level of this competition is very high. Before coming here, we have been preparing for this tournament. We played a couple of friendly matches and everyone was excited to play these games, because they were against very good teams.

The moment we came to Abu Dhabi (for the camp), it was a fresh start for us. Looking back at the ISL (2021-22), we have taken the positives and learnings from the campaign. The mood has been really good, so we are looking forward to the first game. Let’s hope for a positive result.