Mumbai City FC delivered a brave display but lost 0-2 to Asian Giants and Saudi Powerhouse Al Hilal SFC in their AFC Champions League group stage match on Monday at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai.
Goalkeeper Phurba Lachenpa made several spectacular saves to keep the Islanders in the game until the hour mark. Still, a red card shown to defender Mehtab Singh for two bookable offenses meant Des Buckingham’s side’s resistance was broken in the 61st minute when Michael Delgado finished off a smooth Al Hilal move before Serbian striker Aleksandar Mitrovic added a second five minutes from time.
The visiting team from Saudi Arabia was missing big names like Neymar, midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Salman Al Faraj, and goalkeeper Yassine Bounou but still had plenty of quality in their ranks for the Islanders who pushed them all the way.
Mumbai City FC, who were cheered on by a crowd of slightly more than 30,000, raced out of the blocks and had a chance to take the lead in the first minute of play when winger Lalianzualla Chhangte and midfielder Greg Stewart combined well on the left to send the latter through on goal, but Stewart’s shot at the near post was saved by the custodian.
The Islanders, spurred by the early chance, went behind the Al Hilal defence once more when Jorge Pereyra Diaz beat Kalidou Koulibaly to a bouncing ball to go clean on goal, but the former Napoli and Chelsea defender recovered to make a crucial challenge that led to a corner.
Al Hilal gradually warmed up to the task and ripped open the home side’s defense with a brilliant move a few minutes later, but custodian Lachenpa was aware of the danger and made a wonderful stop with his outstretched left leg.
Goalkeeper Lachenpa was called into action once again in the 23rd minute as Portugal International Ruben Neves threatened to score with a brilliantly placed volley, but the Mumbai City FC keeper made a full-stretch stop to deny the former Wolves player.
Al Hilal kept piling on the pressure, but Mumbai City FC was able to threaten on the counter-attack. Stewart was able to get in beyond the Al Hilal defenders before the halftime whistle, but his cutback failed to pick out a Mumbai City FC player.
The game was scoreless at the half, owing partly to Lachenpa’s exceptional goalkeeping abilities, who remained strong between the sticks. Mumbai City FC started the second half brightly, keeping Al Hilal at bay, but were dealt a setback when Mehtab Singh drew his second yellow card and was sent out, reducing the Islanders to ten men.
Al Hilal ultimately made their numerical superiority count when Michael shot past Lachenpa in the 61st minute to put his team ahead. After that, it was all Al Hilal’s domination in the game as they took complete control of the contest against Mumbai City FC’s ten men.
Lachenpa, on the other hand, continued to frustrate the visitors with save after save, the most notable being one that prevented Koulibaly from a close distance after Buckingham’s side failed to clear a corner. Winger Salem Al Dawsari who was awarded with the 2022 AFC Men’s Player of the Year in Doha one week back couldn’t finish off from a close proximity and open goal as it went wayward.
Another good chance came to incoming left back Nasser Al Dawsari whose shot from close range skinned the top of the crossbar before going out for a goalkick. In the 85th minute, Mitrovic claimed the three points for the away team with a header at the far post.
Al Hilal moved to the top of Group D, while Mumbai City FC continued to stay at the bottom of the table following their fourth loss. Mumbai City FC will play Nassaji Mazandaran away from home in Iran in their next AFC Champions League match before wrapping up their season at home against Navabhor FC.
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