Mumbai City FC (MCFC) could not relish the perfect Indian Super League (ISL) season, after it lost to Bengaluru FC in the semifinal on penalties.
The Islanders almost went through the league season unbeaten, as it clinched the League Shield, only losing to Bengaluru and East Bengal after it wrapped up the title.
Despite an impressive season, head coach Des Buckingham knows better than to rest on his laurels as his team gears up to face Jamshedpur FC (JFC) in the AFC Champions League qualifiers on April 4 at the Payyanad stadium in Manjeri, Kerala.
Mumbai and Jamshedpur had contrasting fortunes in this ISL season. While Buckingham’s men steamrolled through the competition, JFC (2021-22 ISL League Shield winner) failed to live up to expectations, finishing tenth in the table. However, in the two matches MCFC and JFC clashed against each other, the struggling Red Miners proved to be an able challenger for the Islanders. It forced a 1-1 draw at Mumbai’s home and succumbed to a narrow 2-1 defeat in the reverse fixture- something Buckingham and his men will be wary of.
“Jamshedpur FC is a good team. They have good individuals and a good coach in Aidy [Boothroyd]. You could see they had found their groove in the last 4-5 games of last season. For us, the task is simple. We have to replicate what we did last season- come away with a result,” Buckingham told the media ahead of the qualifier against JFC.
Not quite done yet
Scripting records has become Mumbai City’s forte. It became the first team to clinch the double (League Shield and the ISL title in one season) under former coach Sergio Lobera in 2021.
Under Buckingham, it became the first Indian club to register a win at the AFC Champions League when it beat Iraq’s Al Quwa Al Jawiya (Air Force Club) 2-1 at the King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh in April 2022. After that, the Islanders became the first club to win the League Shield without losing a match.
“Everyone has a different marker for success. For me, it has been an eventful time here. We not only reached the AFC Champions League but also won two matches. We played the Durand Cup final and then won the ISL Shield. But we are not done yet. It is just the beginning, and we have more to achieve,” Buckingham added. He also said that recent results won’t be a factor in this match, as the circumstances are different.
Team news and injury concerns
Mumbai City had five players in the Indian squad for the recently-concluded Tri-Nation International tournament against Myanmar and the Kyrgyz Republic. In the 23-member squad that emerged victorious, Phurba Lachenpa, Rahul Bheke, Mehtab Singh, Lallianzuala Chhangte and Bipin Singh were from MCFC.
Buckingham said nothing tops the feeling of playing for your country and acknowledged Mehtab, who got his Indian debut. Nonetheless, he said that the players who were away for national duty had not returned to training yet. Apart from these five, Buckingham said everyone is available for selection, and the team is without injuries.
A one-off fixture
One-off fixtures are known to be tricky and unforgiving. The margin for error is low, unlike two-legged fixtures, where teams get a second chance to recover in case of a disappointing first-leg.
Asked whether this could be a factor against JFC, Buckingham said it would have been trickier if this was at the beginning of the season. But now, with the team having played its fair share of football, the conditions are different. According to the head coach, the break was beneficial because he got time to rejig certain aspects of his team.
On a personal note, however, Buckingham had other ideas about the proceedings. “My understanding was this tie was supposed to be a two-legged affair- one home and one away. I am not privy to the details as to why that changed, but I don’t have any control over that, and neither do the players. So, we get on with it and try our best to put ourselves in a winning position in this one-off match.”
- EURO 2024 qualifiers points table LIVE: Romania tops Group I, Ronaldo helps Portugal top Group J
- FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifying format explained: CAF qualifiers, How do African teams qualify for World Cup?
- FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifiers points table LIVE: CAF standings, South Africa tops Group C, Salah hat-trick helps Egypt lead Group A
- Canada down Jamaica in CONCACAF Nations League quarters
- Miandad and Shoaib Akhtar lash out at PCB for “forcing” Babar to step down from captaincy