Mumbai City FC vs Al Hilal in Group D of the AFC Champions League is perhaps the biggest match in the history of the Indian club. It’s not often that Des Buckingham’s side go into a game as clear, undisputed underdogs, but this is one. Despite being held to a 0-0 draw at the King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh a few weeks ago. Follow the game live here:
(Please wait a few seconds for the blog to load. If it doesn’t, please click here.)
The most successful club in Asian football (and the AFC Champions League) underlined their pedigree in that game, as the scoreline demonstrated the gulf of quality between the two sides. Mumbai are bottom of Group D, with zero points and are yet to score in the competition, while last year’s runners-up, Al Hilal, lead the way with seven points.
The result, coupled with the absence of Neymar Jr. Due to his ACL injury, the excitement surrounding the game has been dampened, with even tickets reportedly being sold at discounted prices. On the pitch though, Mumbai will still have to deal with some big names, as the likes of Kalidou Koulibaly, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Ruben Neves, Malcolm and Yasin Bunou are expected to feature (Sergej Milinkovic-Savic picked up a knee injury in the Al Hilal win. Al above Fateh). Al Hilal also have some of Saudi Arabia’s best players, with AFC Player of the Year Salem Al-Dawsari also expected to start.
To compound Mumbai’s problems, Al-Hilal come into the game in great form – top of the Saudi Pro League table, four points clear of Cristiano Ronaldo-led Al Nasr. The Riyadh giants are unbeaten in the league and have won their last nine games in all competitions, scoring 24 goals and conceding just once to Al Ahly’s Alain Saint-Maximin in that period. George Jesus is building quite an unstoppable juggernaut.
Des Buckingham also created an unstoppable juggernaut himself last year, but Mumbai look decidedly underwhelming this year – unbeaten in the Indian Super League but fourth in the table after draws against Odisha and Hyderabad. They needed a late quickfire double to overcome a 0-1 deficit to win in their most recent game against ISL debutants Punjab FC, but it has some cracks.
There will be no paper on offer at the DY Patil Stadium tonight, as Al Hilal can end Mumbai’s slim hopes of qualification with a win. With India’s last appearance in Asia’s premier football competition for a while (unless the country’s AFC co-performance improves), there is more than pride to be had.
What they said:
Des Buckingham, Mumbai City FC Manager:
Understand players’ reactions when drawn. There were two reasons for their reaction. Firstly, this was due to Al Hilal’s high standards and their impressive history in Asia. Players aspire to compete against the best, and so do coaches.
There is no doubt that we will go into this game fully aware that we will have limited possession, as well as our time with the ball. Additionally, we expect a lower than our usual performance in the ISL, due to obvious reasons.
Jorge Jesus, Al Hilal manager:
We want to share our joy when we play in India and see a developing country. It is a pleasure for us to come here. Yes, we know the opponent is a quality team. It certainly won’t be the same – because our opponents will play better knowing they’ll be in their fans. So we are expecting a balanced match.
We wanted Neymar to visit India. It could be a perfect opportunity for all the young footballers in India to have a chance to see him before their eyes. So as much as we miss him, India also wanted or wanted to see him.