Kolkata: Mumbai City FC, whose British coach Des Buckingham had set a target of being the first Indian club to win a match in AFC Champions League, has quite a task on their hands after a 3-0 rout in their opening game on Friday.
The opener in Riyadh saw Mumbai FC, who qualified to represent India after emerging as the Indian Super League champions in 2020-21 season, looked out of sorts against home club Al Shabab in their Group B game at the Prince Faisal Bin Fahd Stadium. A double from Ever Banega (36’ pen, 69’) was complimented by substitute Turki Al Ammar (78’) as Marius-Ninel Sumudica’s men registered a clean sheet.
Buckingham’s men need to regroup quickly to take on Iraq’s Air Force Club on Monday, followed by another uphill task against UAE Pro League title-holders Al Jazira on April 14 (Thursday).
Al Jazira FC, the Abu Dhabi-based outfit, are taking part in the continental event for the fifth time and are a major force in the context of UAE football - whose senior national team has earned a shot at the play-offs for Qatar 2022 in June.
Cocached by Dutchman Marcel Keizer, the UAE club look a cut above with the reputation of their talismanic striker Ali Mabkhout - UAE’s all-time goalscorer in international football - preceding him. The Emirati striker was Al Jazira’s top scorer with 25 goals last season but has had a tamer return this time around, with six goals and five assists so far.
The striker has scored 79 times in 103 appearances for the national side, putting him in the top 10 of the highest goalscorers in international football list. Mumbai City FC will defence have quite a task of containing the opportunist striker who has drawn praise from the likes of Zinedine Zidane when Real Madrid faced the side in 2017.
The foreign pros include Abdoulay Diaby, a former Sporting CP winger, who has been a revelation under coach Keizer as he has scored 10 times across 24 appearances for the club this season. Milos Kosanovic, the 31-year old Sebian defender, is also one of the most vital cogs of Keizer’s side.