AFC Champions League is the biggest club tournament in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). Last April, Mumbai City FC performed incredibly well in the ongoing 2022 season. Here we are briefly talking about their inspiring journey in that tournament and the biggest learning point for the Indian football clubs.
Since the 2021 edition of the AFC Champions League, one Indian club directly earns the qualification ticket for the Group Stage of this tournament. The league table winners (regular season/before the playoff rounds) of the previous season’s Indian Super League (ISL) now qualify for the Group Stage of the AFC Champions League. Previously, the Indian football clubs only qualified for the various qualifying rounds of the tournament.
So, FC Goa became the first Indian team to qualify for the Group Stage in AFC Champions League history when they experienced that tournament in the 2021 edition. In that tournament, FC Goa drew thrice and lost thrice in the regional Group Stage round as they finished in the third position in Group E with three points and failed to advance to the next round.
The ISL 2020/21 winners Mumbai City FC qualified for the Group Stage of the ongoing AFC Champions League edition after they finished on top of the points table at the end of the ISL 2020/21 regular seasons.
Mumbai City FC’s journey in the AFC Champions League 2022
Despite the defending ISL champions having a good start in the ISL 2021/22, they failed to maintain that in the middle of that tournament, and ultimately they just missed out to earn a spot for the playoffs of that tournament. So, they were very desperate to perform well in the AFC Champions League 2022.
In the Group B of the AFC Champions League 2022, Mumbai City FC were drawn with Saudi Arabian club Al-Shabab, Iraqi club Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya and the UAE club Al-Jazira. While Saudi Arabia hosted that complete Group Stage, the Indian team started their journey in that tournament with a 3-0 defeat against Al-Shabab.
They played the next game of that tournament against Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya on 11th April 2022 at King Fahd International Stadium (Riyadh). It was a historic day in Indian football as Mumbai City became the first Indian team to record a win in the AFC Champions League main round. Though Ahmed put ahead of the Air Force club in 59 minutes, Diego Mauricio’s penalty (70’) and Rahul Bheke’s header (75’) sealed that historic win for Mumbai City.
Then Al-Jazira had a 1-0 win and a goalless draw against Mumbai City in their back-to-back meetings. Later, Al-Shabab thrashed the Indian team by a 6-0 margin. But in their last game of the Group Stage, Mumbai City once again beat the Air Force club by 1-0, thanks to Diego Mauricio’s solitary goal at the half-an-hour mark of the game.
Mumbai City finished their journey in the AFC Champions League 2022 with 7 points and finished in the second position in Group B, thanks to their better head-to-head records against the Iraqi club in that Group Stage.
While only the three best second-placed teams out of five second-placed teams in the West Region could qualify for the Round of 16 of that tournament, Mumbai City finished in the fifth spot in that battle. It was a heartbreaking end for them in that tournament, but the Mumbai-based club has inspired the complete Indian football structure with their performances.
Impact on Indian football
Indian football is now growing as time progresses, as the country is also busy restructuring the domestic football system. Mumbai City FC’s recent performances in the AFC Champions League 2022 have proved that we are going in the right direction. Now, we have to take the game more seriously with harder work.
Surely, the other Indian football clubs will now also feel more confident in the next AFC Champions League editions. The latest AFC Champions League edition has proved that Indian football can achieve more by working harder.
While the Indian clubs are now focusing to perform better in the AFC Cup, AFC Champions League has now been added to that same list.
This latest performance can also give a boost to the Indian national football team. In upcoming June, the hosts India will fight against Hong Kong, Afghanistan and Cambodia to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup 2023. While India have never played two back-to-back AFC Asian Cup, they now have a great chance to feature in two consecutive AFC Asian Cup tournaments.