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onsdag, november 8, 2023

Mumbai welcomes Al Hilal’s superstars, regardless of 2-0 defeat | Soccer

Mumbai, India – Decked in shades of blue with fan jerseys, hoardings and banners, the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai hosted the largest soccer match on Indian soil as Mumbai Metropolis welcomed Asia’s most profitable membership Al Hilal within the AFC Champions League.

In entrance of a loud viewers of about 30,000 on Monday, Mumbai Metropolis placed on a strong defensive efficiency within the first half however second-half targets by Al Hilal’s Aleksandar Mitrovic and Michael meant the Indian Tremendous League (ISL) group needed to finish their night time on a shedding be aware.

The turnout for the sport was spectacular however not stunning as there had been a buzz round it for greater than a month after Mumbai Metropolis had been drawn in Group D with Al Hilal, who’ve received the AFC Champions League a file 4 occasions.

The prospect of watching high-profile gamers resembling Neymar, Mitrovic, Ruben Neves and Kalidou Koulibaly on dwelling soil excited followers in India with hundreds signing as much as purchase tickets for the match.

Mumbai Metropolis initially deliberate to host the match on the Balewadi Stadium in Pune however owing to the massive fan curiosity and safety causes, they moved it to the DY Patil Stadium, which has a capability of about 42,000.

“For me, it has at all times been a dream to look at a group from Mumbai play within the AFC Champions League. Now I bought to see it in Mumbai itself, which made it much more particular,” Mumbai Metropolis fan Tushar Sinha advised Al Jazeera.

“Al Hilal are the largest membership in Asia proper now, so to play in opposition to them, is likely one of the largest video games Mumbai Metropolis have had. To see my membership play at dwelling in entrance of so many individuals was nothing in need of insanity.”

Whereas followers in Navi Mumbai watched and cheered for Mitrovic, Neves and Koulibaly, they might not get a glimpse of Neymar after the Brazilian didn’t journey to India, having undergone ACL and meniscus surgical procedure final week.

The information of Neymar’s harm, which emerged in mid-October, disheartened a number of impartial followers as lots of them tried re-selling their match tickets, some even at a reduced fee.

Mumbai Metropolis’s gamers, too, had been upset over lacking the possibility to play in opposition to Neymar, who received the UEFA Champions League with La Liga membership Barcelona in 2014-2015.

“All of us had been upset as a result of everybody desires to play in opposition to the most effective participant on the earth and Neymar is certainly one of them,” Mumbai Metropolis midfielder Lalengmawia Ralte advised reporters within the pre-match press convention.

“It wouldn’t have mattered if he scored 4 or 5 targets in opposition to us, at the least we might been glad to have the possibility to share the pitch with him,” the teenager stated with a smile.

Despite the fact that Neymar didn’t play within the match, that didn’t cease Indian followers from exhibiting their assist for him as a whole bunch wore the Al Hilal jersey along with his title on the again.

Fans from Kerala in south India traveled to Mumbai for the game, carrying a banner wishing Neymar well
Followers from Kerala in south India travelled to Mumbai for the sport, carrying a banner wishing Neymar effectively [Manasi Pathak/Al Jazeera]

No Neymar, no downside for Al Hilal

Even with out the talismanic Neymar, Al Hilal appeared harmful going ahead, because of the attacking prowess of midfielder Neves and striker Mitrovic.

The Riyadh-based group got here shut on a couple of events within the first half earlier than they lastly broke the impasse within the 62nd minute as midfielder Michael scored a header following an help from Mohammed Alburayk.

Michael bought the higher of Mumbai Metropolis defender Akash Mishra on the far put up and comfortably headed the ball into the online earlier than pulling off Cristiano Ronaldo’s trademark “Siu” celebration, which the group joined in on.

Mitrovic, who scored a hat-trick in Al Hilal’s first leg 6-0 win, added the second objective within the eighty fifth minute because the ex-Fulham striker rose highest to attain a header on the far put up following a dink from Malcom.

The objective got here as a reduction for the Serbian worldwide, who missed a number of possibilities earlier than discovering the online and the group additionally loved the objective as they burst right into a frenzy throughout his celebration.

Mumbai Metropolis’s efficiency within the first half was commendable however the group crumbled below strain as soon as they had been decreased to 10 gamers early within the second half, when Mehtab Singh was proven a second yellow card for a sort out on Neves.

“We did an amazing job to manage the sport within the first half after which Mumbai bought drained. Within the second half, we had been capable of obtain our targets,” Al Hilal’s Neves stated in a post-match interview.

“We knew the sport was going to be completely different than it was in Saudi Arabia. They’re a really organised group and it’s by no means simple to play in opposition to groups which might be compact. As we speak, we performed in opposition to a group that defended very effectively however we had been affected person and did a extremely good job.”

With the victory, Al Hilal retained the highest spot within the group with 9 factors from 4 video games and continued their unbeaten file this season. They’re on the verge of qualifying for the knockout spherical.

Mumbai Metropolis, alternatively, look set to be eradicated within the group stage for the second straight season as they’ve but to take a degree from 4 matches.

Regardless of the defeat, Mumbai Metropolis coach Des Buckingham was in excessive spirits after the sport.

“I’m extraordinarily proud of what I noticed,” Buckingham stated within the post-match press convention. “Earlier than the sending-off, I assumed we placed on an excellent present of what Indian soccer can do on this stage in opposition to the most effective group on this competitors.”

Al-Hilal SFC's players celebrate after scoring a goal during the AFC Champions League 2023/24 Group D football match between India's Mumbai City FC and Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal SFC at the D.Y. Patil stadium in Navi Mumbai on November 6, 2023. (Photo by AFP)
Al-Hilal SFC’s gamers have fun after scoring a objective in the course of the AFC Champions League 2023/24 Group D soccer match between India’s Mumbai Metropolis FC and Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal SFC on the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai on November 6, 2023 [AFP]

‘Asia’s premier competitors’

The sight of a whole bunch of Al Hilal jerseys among the many followers was an indication of how well-liked the Saudi Professional League has grow to be, even within the cricket-mad nation of India.

After spending practically half a billion {dollars} luring prime gamers and coaches from conventional European powerhouses, the Saudi Professional League has grabbed the eye of world soccer like by no means earlier than.

It began when Cristiano Ronaldo, a five-time Ballon d’Or award winner, joined Riyadh-based Al Nassr in January after leaving Manchester United.

The Portuguese famous person’s switch, reportedly price greater than $200m a 12 months, set off a pattern as many adorned gamers resembling Neymar, Neves, Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante and Sadio Mane ditched prime European leagues for the profitable Saudi Professional League.

Whereas the Saudi Professional League’s lavish spending has modified the character of the switch market, it has additionally attracted criticism, with critics labelling it as Saudi Arabia’s try and shift the main target from criticism of its human rights file, a cost Saudi soccer has denied.

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund – Public Funding Fund (PIF) – owns 75 p.c of Saudi Skilled League golf equipment Al Ittihad, Al Nassr, Al Hilal and Al Ahli.

Al-Hilal SFC's forward Aleksandar Mitrovic (C) and Mumbai City FC's goalkeeper Phurba Tempa Lachenpa (L) tussel during the AFC Champions League 2023/24 Group D football match between India's Mumbai City FC and Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal SFC at the D.Y. Patil stadium in Navi Mumbai on November 6, 2023. (Photo by AFP)
Al-Hilal SFC’s ahead Aleksandar Mitrovic (C) and Mumbai Metropolis FC’s goalkeeper Phurba Tempa Lachenpa (L) tussle in the course of the AFC Champions League 2023/24 Group D soccer match between India’s Mumbai Metropolis FC and Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal SFC on the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai on November 6, 2023 [AFP]

Mumbai Metropolis fan Sinha stated the Saudi Professional League, which has 18 groups, has excelled in spreading its reputation worldwide.

“Saudi Professional League has at all times been a league with heavy funding however after Ronaldo joined folks know a lot about it,” Sinha stated. “I see children in India sporting Al Nassr jerseys with Ronaldo’s title on the again… it’s loopy!”

One other Mumbai Metropolis fan, Samar Pathania, stated the competitiveness of the Saudi Professional League has “skyrocketed” following the inflow of high-profile gamers and the league is striving to be the most effective in Asia.

“Over the past two years, there was an enormous shift in the direction of altering the league from simply being the Saudi league to the premier competitors in Asia,” Pathania stated. “It’s not only a star-studded league, it’s a star-studded league with nice recruitment.

“One of the best factor in regards to the Saudi Professional League is that they at all times had the funding. What they did proper was they developed their home gamers to a sure minimal stage of high quality after years and years of coaching earlier than spending the money on international gamers. That’s the alternative of what the Indian Tremendous League did.”

A number of seasons in the past, well-liked international gamers resembling ex-Manchester United striker Dimitar Berbatov, former Uruguay striker Diego Forlan, ex-Eire captain Robbie Keane and others joined the ISL as marquee signings because the league tried to spice up its reputation in India.

However these star gamers joined the Indian league when India’s home gamers had been nonetheless creating and thus couldn’t sustain with them.

“The ISL bought the large international gamers first when Indian gamers weren’t on top of things… it’s OK to make use of huge names to spice up your reputation nevertheless it’s vital to develop your personal gamers to a sure stage earlier than you signal star foreigners,” Pathania defined.

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