Mumbai City FC head coach Des Buckingham is confident about the Hero ISL Club Playoff as they face off against Jamshedpur FC for a place in the AFC Champions League 2023-24 group stage at the Payyanad Stadium in Manjeri, Kerala on April 4.

After a historic campaign in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL), the Islanders have now shifted their focus to the task at hand against the Red Miners with an eye on the premier competition of Asian football.

Even though Mumbai City FC have secured a win and a draw against Jamshedpur FC in the Hero ISL league stage this season, the Aidy Boothroyd-coached side made things hard for the Islanders on both occasions. Buckingham acknowledges the quality and the good run of form of the opponents.

“Jamshedpur FC are a good team. They showed that over the course of the year, they certainly showed it twice against us, and then they showed it in the last four or five games of the league phase,” Buckingham said during the pre-match press conference.

“They've got good individuals, a good coach in Aidy (Boothroyd). So we've to be on top of our game and need to do everything to put ourselves in a position to do what we did (against them) in the league stage,” he added.

Mumbai City FC featured in the 2022 AFC Champions League as the second-ever Indian club and made their mark in the competition. They registered a historic win over Iraq’s Air Force Club to become the first Indian club to win a group stage game in the competition. The Islanders made a double over Air Force Club and held UAE’s Al Jazira 0-0.  The Buckingham-managed side finished second in their group with seven points, a tally no Indian club achieved before.

The Englishman reiterates the importance of the AFC Champions League and feels his side is motivated to recreate history once again.

“The AFC Champions League is the highest level of club football (in Asian Football). We are only the second Indian club to go to the Champions League and we're the first team to go and win a game. We won two and managed to get a draw. We got three results out of six games. So, that shows what the players from here can do,” he said.

“It is a very exciting tournament to be a part of and we have players who played it last year (also). They're very keen to try and do everything we can to put ourselves back in that position for next season. We know it won't be easy since Jamshedpur FC will be trying to do exactly the same thing,” Buckingham added.

Mumbai City FC have now re-grouped themselves after they lost 9-8 to Bengaluru FC in a nail-biting penalty shootout in the Hero ISL semi-final. Buckingham sheds light on the preparation and match fitness ahead of the encounter against Jamshedpur FC.

“The preparations have been as good as they can be. We reshuffled a few things after the playoffs and then five players went into the national team, which is a wonderful achievement. Everybody is now back in training and available for the game,” he said.

The Englishman was accompanied by defender Rahul Bheke who was a key player in the Islanders' League Shield win. He made 17 appearances for the Islanders this season and made 48 tackles and 30 interceptions.

The full-back discusses how the players are ready to give their all in this game against Jamshedpur FC.

“It's very important to have a break after that semifinal game and now all the players are back. We're training for the last 12 days; everyone is motivated and ready for this game. It's important that we win this game and qualify for the AFC Champions League group stage,” he said.

The 32-year-old became the first Indian to score at the biggest stage of Asian club football to claim victory over Air Force Club in the 2022 AFC Champions League. He believes they are motivated to register a win and qualify for the AFC Champions League group stage.

“Obviously, as a player, we all wanted to play at the highest level (AFC Champions League) and this is one stage where every Indian dreams of playing,” the defender said.

“This year we also got that thing in our mind. We all are motivated and ready for this game because if we win this game we will be again getting an opportunity to play in the Champions League,” Bheke added.