Mumbai City FC created history by becoming the first Indian football club to register a win in the AFC Champions League by defeating Iraq’s Al Quwa Al Jawiya (Air Force Club) 2-1 at the King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Monday.
Making its debut at Asia’s biggest club football competition, Mumbai City FC came from behind through Diego Mauricio’s spot-kick (70’) and Rahul Bheke’s header (75’) for the victory. Hammadi Ahmed, meanwhile, scored the goal for the three-time AFC Cup champions in the 59th minute.
Mumbai City FC are only the second Indian club to play in the AFC Champions League. FC Goa were the first Indian team to take part in the continental tournament last year, where they played six matches, drawing three and losing three.
With this win, the Islanders are level on three points with Air Force Club on the second spot in the AFC Champions League 2021-22 Group B standings. Saudi Arabia's Al Shabab, against whom Mumbai City lost their first game, are on top with six points after a win over bottom-placed Al Jazira of the United Arab Emirates.
Mumbai City FC head coach Des Buckingham brought in forward Diego Mauricio and defender Amey Ranawade in the side in place of Cassio Gabriel and Mehtab Singh, respectively. Midfielder Bradden Inman also made his way to the bench.
The Indian Super League 2020-21 champions Mumbai City FC dominated the ball in the first 10 minutes. The momentum, however, was broken when a loose back pass in build up prompted MCFC’s goalkeeper Phurba Lachenpa to rush out and deal with the danger.
Air Force Club started to grow into the game gradually after their first shot came in the 15th minute, the Iraqi giants put Mumbai City FC under the pump and threatened with two corners in the next two minutes.
Mumbai City FC’s first real chance came at the half-hour mark. A short corner exchange between forward Lallianzuala Chhangte and midfielder Ahmed Jahouh set up an unmarked Diego Mauricio in the middle of the box. However, the Indian club could not capitalise as the striker put it wide.
The Iraqi side constantly piled on the attack through Hussein Jabbar and Dhurgham Ismail but could not go past Phurba Lachenpa.
Mumbai City FC finally upped the ante and their final chance of the first half came in the 42nd minute when forward Vikram Pratap Singh won the ball in the opposition half and took it forward with Chhangte. Vikram shot at the goal from a tight angle but his shot was blocked just in time by the opposition goalkeeper.
MCFC brought in Brad Inman for Vikram Pratap Singh in the second half but it was the Air Force Club who went ahead in the 59th minute through substitute Hammadi Ahmed.
Shareef Abdulkadhim had the ball on the left wing and passed it to Safaa Hadi. The midfielder played a quick one-two with Hammadi Ahmed and took a shot. His attempt was blocked by Mourtada Fall, but the deflection fell to Hammadi who converted it past the Mumbai City goalkeeper.
Mumbai City FC regrouped quickly and hit back in the 68th minute. Bipin Singh blocked a long ball from the opposition and headed it down to his team-mate Diego Mauricio from Brazil. Diego Mauricio rushed into the box and was challenged from behind by Ali Khadem in a desperate attempt.
Mumbai City FC earned a penalty and Diego Mauricio levelled it for the debutants.
Inspired by the goal, Mumbai City FC started producing good attacking moves and earned a corner in the 74th minute. Ahmed Jahouh took the corner and swung it precisely to the right of Rahul Bheke’s head. The Indian footballer made no mistake and found the net with ease, making him the first Indian to score a goal in the league’s history.
Air Force Club dominated the game from the start with 19 shots on goal as compared to five from Mumbai City.
The Iraqi side also earned 14 corners in the match - eight more than the Indian club. They came close a couple of times in the dying minutes of the match, however, the scoreline stood at 2-1 in favour of Mumbai City FC.
Mumbai City will next face UAE’s Al Jazira at the same venue on Thursday.