Late on Monday night, in the 75th minute of a football match, Rahul Bheke rose highest to head home a corner and give his team an unexpected lead. Mumbai City FC held on to that lead, defending in numbers, putting bodies on the line, and when the final whistle blew after 15 minutes and an additional six more for stoppages, they had written their name in Indian football’s history books.
Mumbai City’s 2-1 win over Iraq’s Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya (also called Air Force Club) at the King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh, was the first time an Indian team had won an AFC Champions League match. And it was fitting that the first win came courtesy a winning goal from a player born and bred in the city – the first Indian to score in the elite competition.
But by no means was this a smooth encounter for the Indian team. Air Force Club dominated a majority of the match, creating 20 (only six on target) chances at goal compared to Mumbai’s five attempts, and had better possession of the ball – 54.2 percent to 45.8 for Mumbai.
Resolute defending from skipper Mouratada Fall, coupled with wayward finishing from the Iraqi forwards ensured the score remained at 0-0 at halfway.
The deadlock was broken in the 59th minute through Hammadi Ahmed. It seemed the floodgates would open on the Group B underdogs, but Mumbai City held firm and started to push back to search for an equaliser.
Bipin Singh intercepted a lobbed pass and headed it towards Diego Mauricio who was brought down in the box. The Brazilian himself stepped up to take the penalty and struck it straight down the middle to level proceedings in the 70th minute.
Five minute later, Ahmed Jahouh – the Moroccan master at set pieces – delivered a perfect corner that found Bheke unmarked in the box. The Indian timed his jump and powerfully headed home the winner.
This was Mumbai City’s second match of the competition after losing out 3-0 to Saudi Arabia’s Al-Shabab on Friday.
They next play UAE outfit Al-Jazira at the same venue on Thursday.