Making their maiden appearance at the prestigious Durand Cup, Mumbai City FC will square off against Indian Navy FT in the opening match of Group B in Kolkata on Thursday 18 August 2022.
Addressing the media over a virtual press conference on Tuesday, Mumbai City FC Head Coach Des Buckingham and experienced defender Rahul Bheke spoke about a variety of topics including the Islanders’ pre-season preparations in Dubai and the team's prospects at Asia’s oldest club competition.
"We've just had three weeks of a preparatory camp in Dubai before we've come here because we wanted to prepare as well as we can firstly for this tournament, and then secondly, for the ISL. But, I won't disrespect this tournament and say we're using it as a preparation for ISL because it is the oldest competition in Asia and it's our first time competing. So of course, we want to try and do as well as we can. We must make sure that we get off to a good start and that's making sure we only look at the first game within the group," Buckingham stated.
Earlier this year, the Islanders scripted history at the 2022 AFC Champions League, becoming the first Indian club to win a game in Asia’s premier club competition. The Englishman expressed that the team's aim is to build on the historic AFC Champions League campaign, where they finished second in the group stage.
"For me as a coach, for us as a playing group and as a club, we want to continue where we left off in the AFC Champions League last season, which is continuing to build our brand of football, continuing to give players opportunities to showcase what they can do, whether it's on the Asian stage or here at the Durand Cup or whether it's in preparation for the ISL. So for me, of course, it's going to be our first competitive game against the Indian Navy, but it's very much important that we try and pick up where we left off at the back end of last season," Buckingham said.
Speaking about the Mumbai City FC squad for the 2022-23 season, Buckingham said," We've managed to retain a very big core of our playing group from last year."
"But, we had highlighted early that some of the players that we wanted to bring in to adapt and build our style of football and to be able to bring the likes of Greg, Alberto, Rostyn and Diaz as foreign players allow us to do that. They complement Mourtada Fall and Ahmed Jahouh. Domestically, we signed Sanjeev and Bhaskar Roy. But, in terms of retaining our core base, will set us up in a good space for this season whilst also trying to add that little bit of quality from our foreign recruits," he added.
Meanwhile, Rahul Bheke expressed his excitement about taking part in the 131st edition of the Durand Cup and spoke about his role in the team.
"I think this is the best place (Kolkata) to start the season in front of a very passionate crowd. I have played in this competition before and I have won it as well. I am excited about playing the Durand Cup again, and our team will be playing this prestigious tournament for the first time and our aim is to win and get ready for the ISL," the 31-year-old defender said.
"We had a great AFC Champions League campaign in Saudi and now as a senior player, I look forward to continuing to guide the juniors and having a great 2022-23 season. We have a good set of players where there is a mixture of juniors as well as seniors. So, as a senior, it's always my duty to keep helping them on and off the pitch and that's what I will keep doing and help the team in the upcoming season," Bheke concluded.
The Islanders will also face ATK Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Rajasthan United FC in Group B of Durand Cup 2022.