NorthEast United FC head coach Juan Pedro Benali felt his side at least deserved a point in their Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 opener as they went down to Mumbai City FC at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium, in Guwahati on Sunday.

It was Mumbai City FC who opened the scoring through Jorge Diaz before Parthib Gogoi netted the equaliser. Diaz soon restored Mumbai City FC’s tally as the Islanders headed into the break with the lead. Both sides continued to create chances in the second half, but NorthEast United FC found it hard to restore parity as the visitors nicked the three points for the evening.  

“We played against one of the biggest teams,” Benali said in the pre-match press conference.

“We were there (with them). At least we deserved a draw. We had eight or nine attempts on goal. The players game everything. Parthib was totally dead in the end. We needed to change him, also Romain (Philippoteaux). They kept pressing well and working hard. It was a very hard day for Phalguni (Singh), who lost his father today, but he played and gave everything for the team. I'm happy, proud. Now we need to start thinking about the 29th (for the match against Punjab FC),” he further said.

Benali called for his side to be ruthless in front of the goal and stated that if they don't punish the opposition, his team would have to suffer. 

“We need to believe in ourselves and be less innocent. To bite when we had the chance and to kill. Because when you don't kill at this level, you get killed. That's what we need to focus on,” he said when asked about the aspects his side needs to improve. 

Midfielder Phalguni Singh impressed on his ISL debut for the Highlanders while Gogoi continued from where he left off last season. Benali praised the performances of the two Indian midfielders and the whole team.    

“Every player did his job. We need to correct two or three small things. We will be there, as I said. (We have) good (Indian) talents. The team is working. Talent is not enough, we need a little bit more (time). We cannot push Parthib and Phalguni all the time. They need time. They are so young (to this level) and (instead) if we start pushing them (to deliver) now; maybe we do the contrary and let them free. Let them enjoy their football,” he expressed.