Mumbai City FC lost 2-0 to Iranian Club Nassaji Mazandaran in their first AFC Champions League group stage game at home. The Islanders showcased immense attacking prowess but were unable to find the finishing touch.

Des Buckingham put out a balanced team for the Islanders’ first AFC Champions League 2023/24 group stage game against Iranian side FC Nassaji Mazandaran. Phurba started in goal; Tiri played alongside Rostyn Griffiths in Mumbai City FC's back-line. Rahul Bheke and Akash Mishra occupied the full back-back positions. The prodigious Apuia Ralte was paired up with the influential Greg Stewart and Yoell van Nieff in the Islanders’ midfield. The Islanders had the electric duo of  Lallianzuala Chhangte on the right and Bipin Singh on the left wing in attack. Jorge Pereyra Diaz was leading the line for the Islanders through the centre against FC Nassaji Mazandaran.

Mumbai City FC started the game in typical attacking fashion and was piling on the pressure early on Nassaji. The Islanders created the first chance of the game in the 3rd minute. A brilliant diagonal ball by Rostyn found Bipin Singh in acres of space on the left wing. Bipin then slipped a smart ball to Greg in the centre of the Nassaji penalty box, the Scotsman then got a quick shot off that was saved at the near post.

Diaz’s movement in the final third was posing a lot of challenges to the Nassaji back-line. In the 9th minute, Jorge picked up the ball on the right wing and made his way to the byline, he found Chhangte with a low cross in the centre. Chhangte unleashed a devastating shot that was inches away from finding the back of the net.

The Islanders were stifling the Nassaji attack superbly as Apuia Ralte and Yoel van Nieff were making sure they were winning the ball in midfield and supporting the high press led by Greg and Jorge seamlessly. Nassaji were struggling to get out of their half and Phurba was relatively untroubled in the first 15 minutes of the game.

The next chance of the game broke the way of the Islanders in the 19th minute. Diaz made a smart run behind the Nassaji defence and was found well by an accurate through ball by Greg Stewart. The Argentine then laid the ball off for Bipin Singh on the left wing, and Bipin put a cross in quickly towards Chhangte. Unfortunately for Chhangte a Nassaji defender got to the ball first and cleared it out for a corner.

Nassaji Mazandaran however, took the lead in the 33rd minute of the game against the run of play. A cheeky ball by Nassaji’s captain Hossein Zamehran right outside the box found Mohammad Hosseini on the left wing behind Rahul Bheke. Mohammad Hosseini’s first touch saw him break into the Islanders’ penalty box with the ball, and he put the ball past Lachenpa with his second touch to make it 1-0 in favour of the Iranian club.

Despite Mumbai City FC dominating possession, they were struggling to create clear-cut chances against Nassaji as they were chasing the game. 

In added time at the end of the first half, Mumbai City FC conjured another chance to equalise. A fluid one-two between Apuia and Chhangte on the right wing saw Chhangte receive the ball on the run on the right flank. He floated a dangerous ball into the box, that was met by a charging Bipin at the back post. Bipin tried volleying the ball the first time and got it slightly wrong as his shot was a whisker away from sneaking into the goal. 

The first half came to an end soon after as FC Nassaji Mazandaran went into the break with a slender lead, while Mumbai City FC was looking for inspiration in the final third to equalise.

Mumbai City FC came out for the second half in the hope to equalise quickly. The Islanders created the first chance of the half in the 52nd minute. Chhangte was found on the right wing by a long ball, the diminutive winger then put in a dangerous ball toward Pereyra Diaz in centre. The ball unfortunately never reached Diaz thanks to an interception by a Nassaji defender, his clearance made its way to Yoel van Nieff who unleashed a venous strike but it was off-target.

Nassaji were absorbing the pressure brilliantly and recycling the ball well. The Iranian club made some tactical changes at the start of the first half as they brought on Mherdad Abdi and Frashid Esmaeili for Hossein Zamehrani and Mohammad Hosseini.

Soon after Nassaji doubled their lead in the 66th minute of the game. A scruffed clearance by Rostyn put Akash Mishra under pressure inside his own box on the left wing. Mishra mis-controlled the ball and it was stolen from him by Frashid Esmaeili, who drove to the byline and put in a low ball towards the centre to find Mohammadreza Azadi, who put the ball past Lachenpa to make it 2-0 for Nassaji Mazandaran.

Nassaji were sitting back in their own half and looking to hit the Islanders on the counter. Mumbai City FC was throwing men forward in the hopes of cutting down the deficit. In the 71st minute of the game, the Islanders created the subsequent chance of the game as Greg drove forward with the ball. The Scotsman took a powerful yet speculative shot from distance that was right at the keeper and was grasped by him with ease.

Des Buckingham made his first change of the game in the 75th, as he brought off Akash Mishra for Vikram Partap Singh, to add more dynamism in attack for the Islanders. 

Greg Stewart looked to use his magic to drag the Islanders back into the game. The Scotsman and Bipin constructed play on the left wing patiently, after which Greg whipped a cross towards Chhangte in center, who managed to get his head to the ball but was unable to guide the ball towards the goal, as the gilt-edge chance was squandered.

Although Nassaji were leading they were still sitting in a low-block to absorb the pressure Mumbai City FC was piling on their back line going into the last 5 minutes of the game. Soon after the game came to an end as Mumbai City FC lost 2-0 to Nassaji Mazandaran in their opening AFC Champions League group stage game.

Mumbai City begin their Indian Super League campaign on 24th September away to NorthEast United FC, at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati at 8 pm.