Mumbai City ‘super excited’ to rub shoulders with Neymar in AFC Champions League | Football News - Hindustan Times
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Mumbai City ‘super excited’ to rub shoulders with Neymar in AFC Champions League

Aug 24, 2023 09:11 PM IST

Apart from the Saudi side, Iran's FC Nassaji Mazandaran, and Uzbekistan's PFC Navbahor Namangan are also pooled in the same group.

Glued to the screen with their phones out recording the excitement, the Mumbai City FC players broke out in jubilation when their name was announced in the AFC Champions League draw, which was conducted in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday. The excitement was obvious as it would give most a first-hand experience to finally rub shoulders with football's greatest stars who have recently migrated from Europe to Asia. And it was the case as the Indian Super League (ISL) side were pooled beside Saudi's Al-Hilal in Group D of the AFC Champions League, a club that has recently recruited the likes of Neymar Jr., Kalidou Koulibaly, Yassine Bounou, Ruben Neves, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, and Aleksander Mitrovic in the summer transfer window.

Neymar joined Saudi club Al-Hilal in the summer transfer window(REUTERS)
Neymar joined Saudi club Al-Hilal in the summer transfer window(REUTERS)

Apart from the Saudi side, Iran's FC Nassaji Mazandaran, and Uzbekistan's PFC Navbahor Namangan are also pooled in the same group.

“Players were excited, like they wanted to face any one of the these teams. Some are like big Ronaldo fan, so they wanted Al-Nassr to be there. We all were excited that we get one of the teams, and we got Al Hilal, so we are super excited for that," said Mumbai captain Rahul Bheke in the press conference following the draw.

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While the names mentioned above come with rich European experience, Neymar in particular attracts most of the limelight, given his and Brazil's popularity in the sub-continent. And Bheke, who plays in the back four, might be the one with the task to stop the Brazilian.

The defender said he is “super excited” for the challenge, before adding “if I play that game, I will make sure to give my best will be to stop him.”

Mumbai are not new to the tournament, in fact they are the first Indian club to register a win in the competition. The Islanders had defeated Iraq's Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya twice last season and will hope for a much improved outing this time around.

“Like last time we got the opportunity and we did our best. We got two wins but it was not enough to get qualified for the next round. But this year our target will be same that we have to get to the next round. So our preparations have already started. Now we're in the middle of Durand Cup and then we will get two to three weeks before our first game. So we'll do our best to prepare well,” said Bheke.

Preparation started with Durand Cup

Mumbai head coach Des Buckingham expressed happiness over the team's performance in Durand Cup, stating it as part of their preparation for the upcoming AFC Champions League. He also noted this to be the reason behind Mumbai fielding a full strength squad as compared to other ISL sides, who are also part of the tournament.

Mumbai have made it to the quarterfinals of one of Asia's oldest tournament, securing resounding wins in the three matches the team has played so far.

"We've come here to the Durand Cup. Firstly we want to be a successful club so we've brought our full strength team here with the view of trying to go as far in this competition as we can. And I'm very happy with the three games that we've played so far and how we played.

If we can go as far as we can, it gives us the opportunity to have competitive games to lead them into what will be the first game of our season, which will be a Champions League game. So it won't be an ISL game for us," the coach said.

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