PUNE: Mumbai City FC are one sleep away from kicking off the 2023-24 season with a second consecutive appearance in the prestigious AFC Champions League against Iran’s FC Nassaji Mazandaran here on Monday.
The Islanders start their campaign in the top continental event with a Group D fixture against the Iranian Hazfi Cup Champions at the Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex in Balewadi, with high hopes of making it to the next stage.
Before embarking on yet another AFC Champions League campaign, Mumbai City FC head coach Des Buckingham and goalkeeper Phurba Lachenpa attended a pre-match press conference, talking about their aspirations, preparations and hopes for the campaign.
Buckingham spoke about the Islanders’ previous AFC Champions League campaign highlighting the club’s sentiment around it.
“We were slightly disappointed not to qualify for the next round last season and rather than maybe what the perception was going into the ACL last time. So, to change that narrative afterwards was very positive and I think it really showcased what Indian football can do on this stage,” he said.
Buckingham also talked about how this season’s AFC Champions League will be a unique experience, he said, “The tournament this year is going to be very different, with a very different set of circumstances. We were obviously based in Riyadh because of COVID-19 last season.
"This year we go back to the traditional format of home and away. With that comes these challenges and differences, but the one thing I'm looking forward to is just trying to replicate the performances that we had in the Champions League last year which put us in a strong position to get those results. We have experience of the Champions League from last year as well as the football that we played in the league last year as well," he said.
"So, I think if we can combine those and if we prepare well, we'll put ourselves in the strongest position we can, but it's the top level of Asian club competition so we must be on top of our game to make sure we get everything out of every game,” he said.
The Islanders’ number 1, Phurba Lachenpa, expressed his thoughts ahead of the game with elation. Phurba said, “We are very excited as a unit, and as a player, you always want to play against the best and play in the best of the tournaments in Asia. So, it's an exciting and good opportunity for us to showcase what we can do as a team.”
Lachenpa went on to talk about the importance of having experience of playing in the AFC Champions League as he highlighted the challenges the team might face this time around, he said, “It's always challenging for us to do it because we are a top club, and we are not representing only the city of Mumbai, we are representing India as a whole. There's always pressure to do well but it's always up to us, on our mentality, how we deal with it, and how we prepare against top teams in this competition, so yeah, it depends on our mentality, how we take it and how we take all these challenges and competition.”
Buckingham concluded the press conference by talking about the importance of Mumbai City FC’s presence in the AFC Champions League for Indian football, he said, “I think it's a wonderful thing. We’re not just representing our club, we're representing our region but we're also going to represent India and Indian football on the highest stage of club football that we can.
You see the excitement around the community, you see the excitement around the country because it's a new experience and it's something they haven't had before. In fact, this will be the first time we've been able to bring Champions League football to fans in India. So, for the first time, people will come and see this level of competition and the quality of players across all three teams we will face.”