Mumbai City continue their 2023-24 AFC Champions League journey with a trip to Riyadh for what is arguably the biggest game in the club’s 10-year history. The Islanders will take on Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal SFC at the King Fahd International Stadium in matchday 3 of Group D with action kicking off at 9 PM AST (11:30 PM IST).
Des Buckingham’s side entered into the international break off the back of a thrilling 2-1 win over Kerala Blasters in the season’s first home game at the Mumbai Football Arena, courtesy of goals from Jorge Pereyra Díaz and Apuia on either side of a Danish Farooq header. A refreshed Mumbai City make the journey to Riyadh as focus shifts back to the AFC Champions League for the Islanders with Asia’s most successful club awaiting.
Al Hilal, who sit atop Group D with 4 points, come into tonight’s clash in good form - the Saudi side, managed by Jorge Jesus, have not conceded a goal in their last five games. A summer overhaul of Saudi football saw a host of international superstars make their way to the Saudi Pro League and to Al Hilal. While their talisman and global superstar Neymar Jr. may be out of the reckoning with an unfortunate knee injury, Al Hilal boast of a strong domestic contingent with the likes of Salem Al Dawsari and Salman Al Faraj coupled with a host of world class talent like Aleksandar Mitrović, Ruben Neves, Sergej Milinković-Savić, Kalidou Koulibaly and Yassine Bounou.
Speaking to members of the media in Riyadh, Des Buckingham highlighted his anticipation as the Islanders gear up for a memorable outing at the King Fahd Int’l Stadium.” It’s a game that we are very much looking forward to, coming to the most successful team in Asia. They are a side that are admired all across Asia for what they have done, their style of football and the type of players that they possess. We are excited to be here and test and challenge ourselves against Asia’s best,” said Buckingham in the pre-match press conference.
Young midfielder Apuia accompanied the Islanders’ boss for the customary media commitments and echoed Buckingham’s sentiments on tonight’s challenging clash against the four-time AFC Champions League winners. “As we all know, we will be playing against a good team. We are very happy and motivated to play against one of the biggest teams in Asia. Our preparations have been at our best and we look forward to gaining a desirable result from the match. It’s a brilliant opportunity for us to improve ourselves against such a reputable side in Asia. We have been training very hard and we’ll try our best to stick to the coach’s plans,” said the 23 year old midfielder.
Riyadh, and particularly the King Fahd Stadium, holds a special place in Mumbai City folklore as the Islanders recorded a historic two wins and a draw in the club’s debut appearance in the AFC Champions League last April and Des Buckingham is hopeful of drawing inspiration from those magical memories.
“This is only the 3rd time that an Indian side has played in the group stage. We have put ourselves in a commendable position to be here twice in a row. Coming back here, there are some wonderful memories. Firstly, we spent 28 days here last year. We were extremely well looked after and hosted in this country. We also became the first Indian side to pick up a win at this level of the competition, and it did not just stop there as we went on to gain some more points and finish second in the group. We did that at a stage where we will be tomorrow. You are always better placed if you have been somewhere before. Those experiences will help because we’ve got a majority of the same players from last year, and we are looking forward to get back to the King Fahd Stadium,” said the 38-year-old tactician, signing off from his press conference.
Des Buckingham has reported a clean bill of health for the Islanders ahead of the game against Al Hilal SFC.
The hosts Al Hilal will be without the services of captain Salman Al Faraj who picked up a red card in their matchday 2 fixtures against Nassaji Mazandarn. The Saudi club will also be without their star Neymar Jr. who will be sidelined with a knee injury for several months.
Where To Watch
The game will kick off at 11:30 PM IST today, 23rd of October 2023 and will be broadcasted on Sports 18 and Fancode. For our global fans, you can find your broadcaster here (https://gtly.to/hu4_hoOGI) or follow all the action LIVE on our official Twitter account - @MumbaiCityFC.