It was a night etched in history as Mumbai City FC recorded a historic 2-1 win over Air Force Club at the King Fahd Stadium on Monday. Not only did the club become the first ever Indian club to win in the AFC Champions League, but it also gave us the first ever Indian goalscorer in the competition. Rahul Bheke’s header was what gave the Islanders the three points.
After the previous game, Des Buckingham made two changes in his lineup - Amey Ranawade and Diego Mauricio were brought in for Mehtab Singh and Cassio Gabriel respectively. Bradden Inman also made his way to the bench.
The match started well in Mumbai’s favour, as the boys in blue dominated possession and tempo in the first 10 minutes. The ascendency ended when a poor back pass in buildup prompted Phurba to rush out and deal with the danger.
After this point, Air Force Club started to grow into the game gradually. Though they were inflicted with an injury in the 13th minute, it didn’t stop them from getting attempts on goal.
It took them until the 15th minute to get their first shot, but they ended up having 3 shots within the next 3 minutes – two of which came from corners.
Air Force were also the first team to get booked, courtesy of Hussein Jabbar. The Iraqi international ended up catching Ahmed Jahouh with his arm after he was dribbled past.
The Islanders’ first knock on the door came at the half hour mark. A short corner exchange between CHhangte and Jahouh set up the Moroccan to swing in a mouth-watering cross. The ball was aimed towards Diego Mauricio who was left unmarked in the middle of the box. Unfortunately, the striker couldn’t head it goalwards and the chance went begging.
The Falcons came very close to scoring only 3 minutes after, through Hussein Jabbar. A well executed cross went to Alaa who headed it to Dhurgham Ismail. The left-back played it across the face of goal, setting up Jabbar – whose effort went wide.
Dhurgham Ismail created yet another chance in the 37th minute, playing the ball to Alaa Abbas. The striker’s headed attempt dipped towards the goal, and forced Phurba into a save.
The final chance of the first half came in the 42nd minute. Vikram won the ball in the opposition half, and Chhangte took it forward. He returned the favor to Vikram by setting him up in the box. The youngster shot from a tight angle, but saw his shot get blocked just in time by a sliding challenge.
Both teams entered the second half with changes in the line-up. Air Force Club made a double switch – bringing in Hammadi Ahmed and Ahmed Lafta for Alaa Abbas and Hussein Jabbar. Meanwhile, Mumbai City brought in Brad Inman for Vikram Partap.
The Iraqi side came close to scoring once again in the 53rd minute. Jahouh lost the ball cheaply in our third, and Dhurgham Ismail latched on to it. He played the ball in to Shareed, who somehow missed the entire goal.
However, the home team ended up scoring in the next five minutes through substitute Hammadi Ahmed. Shareef had the ball on the left wing, and slipped it to Hadi. The midfielder played a quick one-two with Hammadi Ahmed, and took a shot. His attempt was blocked by Mourtada Fall, but the deflection fell fortuitously to Hammadi who put it past Phurba.
The Islanders regrouped quickly, to strike back in the 68th minute. Bipin blocked a long ball, and headed it down to Diego Mauricio. The #33 challenged Ali Khadem for the ball and steamed into the box. Having beaten his man, Khadem had no choice but to commit a challenge, giving away a penalty.
The Brazilian stood over the spot-kick and took it with great skill. He fired it down the centre while the keeper went the wrong way. The scoreline was level again, and the game was there for the taking.
Just when either team seemed to cool off, the second goal came. It started with a well-worked attacking move in the 74th minute, which ended up releasing Brad Inman in the box. The Aussie’s low cross was blocked and a corner was awarded. Jahouh stood by the corner flag, and swung it in right on to Rahul Bheke’s head. The local lad made no mistake, and found the net with ease, thus making the night his and his city’s.
The remainder of the game was played out with great resilience, which matched Air Force’s attacking intent.
Vinit Rai took to the pitch in the 81st minute, replacing Diego Mauricio.
Air Force also came close to scoring from a corner in the 84th minute. Hammadi Ahmed tried to glance Dhurgham’s delivery into the top right corner. However, it was just another corner that ended with a missed opportunity.
Mehtab Singh and Raynier Fernandes also got a few minutes on the pitch, as they came on for Amey Ranawade and Brad Inman.
The game, having been an entertaining one all this while, also gave viewers a nail-biting finish. Hammadi came close to restoring parity in the 92nd minute as he tried to head Shareef’s cross in. The attempt though, came off his shoulder and was collected comfortably by Phurba.
With this result, Mumbai City now lie second on the group table, ahead of Air Force Club due to a head-to-head advantage. The Islanders head out once again on 14th April, Thursday at 10:45 PM. The game will be against Al-Jazira FC in the King Fahd International Stadium.