The night was a date with history as the Islanders took to the pitch in their first game of the AFC Champions League. The boys in blue took on Al Shabab FC in their maiden outing in an Asian continental competition.
Des Buckingham named Phurba Lachenpa, Rahul Bheke, Mourtada Fall, Mehtab Singh, Mandar Rao Dessai, Apuia Ralte, Ahmed Jahouh, Lz Chhangte, Vikram Partap and Bipin Singh as part of the starting XI.
The start of the game was befitting for such a monumental occasion. Within the first 5 minutes, we saw either side get a good shot off.
It was the Saudi outfit which struck first, through a low cross by Bahebri from the left. Al Abed drove into the box and tried to drive his effort into the corner. The man between the sticks, Phurba, was well alert and did well to tip it away for a corner.
Our chance came only a couple minutes later, through a loose ball in midfield. Ahmed Jahouh latched on to it, and played it ahead to Bipin Singh. The #29 twisted and turned, and eventually found enough space to pull the trigger. Unfortunately, the shot went wide.
Al-Shabab looked daunting in attack in the following few minutes, but the Islanders held the fort well and kept the scoreline at nil-nil.
In the 24th minute, Al-Shabab came close to getting their first goal. Ever Banega dribbled forth, and slipped the ball down the right. The cross came in and Paulinho got a header from close range. Once again, Phurba was in the right place at the right time, and made a good stop.
The first booking of the game came in the half-hour mark, when Vikram Partap was penalized for a bad tackle.
Only three minutes later, the deadlock was broken. Phurba was forced to commit a challenge on Carlos Junior, which was arguably at the edge of the box. The referee, however, decided to award a penalty.
Ever Banega stepped up, and dispatched it expertly to give the natives the lead.
In the 37th minute, there were shouts for a penalty in the Mumbai City camp. Al-Sagour seemed to bring down Cassio in the box, while dealing with a cross. However, the appeal was waved away and play went on.
The first half still had some excitement left, as in the 44th minute Al-Shabab created yet another chance for themselves. Carlos was set-up into the box, down the right halfspace. His shot was packed with power, but lacked precision and went just wide of the post.
The second half came with relatively less energy, but it still had its moments.
For starters, the first shot on target came only 3 minutes after the whistle blew. It was yet another low cross into the box, which set up Nawaf. The midfielder took the shot in his stride, but was denied by Phurba’s outstretched hands.
Phurba came clutch once again in the 53rd minute, this time closing down Carlos Junior and sticking a foot out to deny his shot from going in.
The first substitution of the night came around the hour mark, when Raynier and Vignesh were subbed in for Vikram Partap and Mandar Rao Dessai. Al-Shabab also chose to make a double change – opting to bring in Turki Al-Ammar and Abdullah Al-Jawaey for Paulinho and Hattan Bahebri.
The match was starting to settle, until Ever Banega found the net again in the 68th minute. The cut-backs ended up coming to fruition for the opposition. Abdullah Ahmed sent one in from the left hand side, and the Argentine ran on to it, and put it past Phurba.
In the 74th minute, Gurkirat was brought on for Cassio Gabriel.
Al-Shabab got their final goal of the night in the 77th minute. It was Turki Al-Ammar who sealed the three points, through his well-placed shot into the corner. Al-Sagour, the left-back was the provider.
Ahmed Jahouh was also subbed off eventually for Vinit Rai in the 83rd minute, and Mehtab Singh received a booking in the 86th minute for pulling down a player.
Mumbai City though, showed good spirit and continued going forward till the end. In the 88th minute, Chhangte dribbled past his man expertly and went for glory from a tight angle. Unfortunately, the shot blazed over the bar
The night was capped off by Phurba, who made his 9th save of the night and flicked Al-Sagour’s shot wide of the post.
With the conclusion of game 1, the Islanders find themselves at the bottom of the group. Their next fixture is at the King Fahd Stadium, against Air Force Club. The match will be on Monday, April 11, at 10:45 PM IST.