AFC Champions League – Mumbai City FC suffer fifth straight defeat

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Mumbai City FC’s difficult run in the 2023–24 AFC Champions League campaign continues as they were firmly defeated by Nassaji Mazandaran at the Azadi Stadium, Iran. The side from Iran picked up a comfortable 2-0 win against an all-Indian Mumbai City 11. The Islanders have now lost five games in a row in the 2023/24 ACL, letting in 15 goals in that run, which ranks joint second for the most goals conceded in the competition.

Mumbai City FC was at the bottom of the standings coming into this match, having played four games and collected zero points. More concerns emerged when head coach Des Buckingham left the club to sign for Oxford United FC in EFL League One, about twelve days prior to this match. Two days before the match, they received more worrying news: none of their international players traveled to Iran for this match since their home countries had urged them not to go to the Middle East citing security concerns. Mehtab Singh was also suspended for the match after receiving a red card in the previous group-stage match against Al-Hilal.

Mumbai City FC

The Islanders settled on an all-Indian starting eleven, with Rahul Bheke leading the young group. Anthony Fernandes, the assistant coach, decided to play a 3-4-3 formation instead of their usual 4-3-3. Lachenpa retained his spot in the goal, with Rahul Bkeke starting at the back with Halen and Valpuia. Apuia partnered Vinit Rai in the midfield, while Akash Mishra and Vikram Pratap started as wing-backs. Gurkirat Singh started up front, with Chhangte and Bipin on the wings. On the other hand, Mehdi Rahmati made six changes to the Nassaji team that lost to Navbahor in the previous group-stage match.

Nassaji were off to a flying start as they won a free kick in a good position in the first minute, following a foul from Bheke. Moments later, Valpuia made a brilliant tackle leading to Nassaji’s first corner. Rahul Bheke was forced to commit a foul in the eleventh minute when Bipin gave away the ball in a dangerous position. Bheke was thus given a yellow card. Minutes later, the Islander’s defense was caught completely off guard, as Mohammad Reza Azadi gave the hosts the lead. He made a brilliant run in behind Bheke and Valpuia, before beating Phurba Lachenpa at the near post to score from a very tight angle.

While Mumbai City FC were looking to establish themselves in the game, they conceded a bizarre own goal in the 32nd minute, when Halen Nongtdu passed the ball into his own next, misplacing his back pass to the keeper. Three minutes later, Halen was shown a yellow card for a clumsy challenge. As soon as Gurkirat cleverly forced the opponent goalie to make a mistake in the 39th minute, he passed the ball to Bipin, who was unable to keep his shot on target. Although Mumbai won their first corner of the game in the 45th minute, they were unable to capitalize. With a comfortable 2-0 advantage, the home team headed into the halftime break.

Mumbai City FC were off to a promising start in the second half. Gurkirat won a corner for the Islanders in the 49th minute. Chhangte sent it short to Bipin, who found Rahul Bheke with a wonderful cross, who failed to keep his header on target. They won another corner three minutes later, but once again they were unable to capitalize on it. Around the one-hour mark, Mumbai City FC made their first change of the game, as Sanjeev Stalin replaced Halen Nongtdu, who was on a yellow card. Ayush Chhikara replaced Gurkirat Singh in the 65th minute to make his debut in the AFC Champions League.

Mumbai City FC
Image Courtesy: F.C. Nassaji Mazandaran (Instagram)

Amir Mehdi Janmaleki, the right-back who set up the opening goal, was sent off in the 68th minute for a risky tackle on Sanjeev Stalin, leaving Nassaji Mazandaran down to 10 men. After doing an on-field VAR check, the referee who had originally given a yellow card changed his mind. Around the 75-minute mark, Mumbai City FC won back-to-back corners, but they were unable to take advantage of the opportunity. In the final ten minutes, Bipin Singh and Vinit Rai were replaced by Jayesh Rane and Franklin Nazareth. Phurba Lachenpa stopped Hossein Zamehran’s attempt to make it three in stoppage time. Ultimately, the hosts emerged victorious 2-0.

On December 4, Mumbai City FC will play against Navbahor in their last group-stage game at Balewadi Stadium, Pune. Navbahor, who are second in the group right now, would be keen to win to boost their prospects of making it to the knockout stage. However, Mumbai City FC will be focused on winning and capping their ACL season with a positive result, before taking on Bengaluru FC in the Indian Super League.


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Shyam Sundar
Shyam Sundar
A youthful, diehard supporter of the Indian Football Team and Chennaiyin FC. Before the Lockdown, I didn't often watch Indian football! I occasionally kept up with the Blue Tigers, but not consistently. But ever since the lockdown, I've become really interested in Indian football. I may not have a background in journalism, but Indian football is something I am really passionate about.

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