Mumbai City FC welcomes Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal SFC to the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai for matchday 4 in Group D of the AFC Champions League. The much-anticipated clash, arguably one of the biggest competitive games played in Indian club football history, will kick off at 7.30pm IST. The game will also mark the Islanders’ return to the iconic DY Patil Stadium, the stadium where the Islanders played their first-ever home games in 2014 and continued to call it home for the inaugural two seasons of the ISL.
Des Buckingham’s side will go into the home clash against Al-Hilal after a stunning 2-1 victory over ISL new boys, Punjab FC at the Mumbai Football Arena, which showcased the Islanders’ fighting spirit. After going a goal down in the first. half against Punjab FC, Greg Stewart’s stunner from outside the box and Jorge Pereyra Díaz’s clever finish just 51 seconds apart inspired an Islanders’ comeback in the dying minutes to secure a stunning victory. Mumbai City FC will be hoping that they can use home advantage to put a dent in Al Hilal’s AFC Champions League campaign as Des Buckingham’s side will look to make a late charge for a qualifying spot in Asia’s premier club competition.
Al Hilal sit atop Group D with 7 points out of a possible 9 after three games in the AFC Champions League. The Saudi footballing giants come into tonight’s match in strong form, as they are yet to lose a match in the Saudi Pro League and trounced the Islanders 6-0 at home in their previous AFC Champions League game. While Al Hilal comes into this game without the talismanic Neymar Jr., the dynamic Sergej Milinkovic Savic, and highly experienced custodian Yassine Bounou, their squad still boasts a plethora of world-class talents such as Ruben Neves, Aleksander Mitrovic and Kalidou Koulibaly, who will line-up alongside their strong domestic contingent consisting of Saudi internationals Salem Al Dawsari and Salman Al-Faraj.
Ahead of what will arguably be the biggest game of competitive football played in Mumbai back at the venue where it all started for the Islanders, Des Buckingham addressed the media at the DY Patil Stadium yesterday and said, “I think it’s a wonderful kind ofa full circle. We’re 10 years into the ISL itself and the first game of Mumbai City took place here. This may be the last time an Indian side gets the opportunity to play in the Champions League and so to be able to bring it full circle and bring it back here, it’s a nice moment for the people of Mumbai and for our club. Hopefully there’s many more opportunities, whether it’s here or at the MFA to continue having not just ISL, but of course Asia’s best competitions, whatever that looks like in the future.”
The Islanders displayed a spirited performance for the best part of the reverse fixture in Riyadh before Al Hilal’s quality came to the fore. Hopeful of picking up from there in tonight’s home fixture, Des Buckingham said, “We played really well in the last match up till the 70th minute. We are at very different stages of the season compared to Al Hilal. They are on the backend of their season while we have just started out. The reason, to put this to context, is our match fitness after the 70th minute and of course the quality Al Hilal possess. But we knew we could compete, and we did that. The approach now is to replicate what we did in those 70 minutes in the previous game. We also want to play the style of football that we can be proud of. The players and the staff have done as much as we can, and we’ll do it again tomorrow and try and position ourselves better.”
Apuia, who has had a strong start to the season, showed glimpses of his talent in Riyadh in a midfield packed with global names like Ruben Neves and Sergej Milinković-Savić. The Mizo midfielder shared his experience of facing off not only against some of Asia’s best footballers but some of the world’s best as he said, “Al Hilal are one of the best clubs in Asia. It’s important to understand the players they have recruited and it was a difficult task to play against them. As individuals, it’s a great opportunity for us to improve ourselves but I believe in our team that we can beat any side in any game. So, we’ll give our best and playing against them. We don’t have anything to lose in this tournament, so we’ll give our best and fight for the three points.”
Des Buckingham will have a full roster to select from as the Islanders’ head coach reported a clean bill.
Al Hilal will continue to be without the services of captain Salman Al Faraj who serves his suspension. Alongside Neymar Jr. who will be sidelined with a knee injury for several months, Al Hilal will also miss Sergej Milinković-Savić who faced an injury in their domestic league campaign.
The game will kick off at 7:30pm IST today, November 6 and will be broadcasted on Sports 18 and Fancode.