AIFF Media Team
MANJERI: Two Hero ISL League Winners’ Shield in three seasons makes a very good outing for Mumbai City FC, who are now looking forward to their second stint in AFC Champions League after defeating Jamshedpur FC in the Hero Club Playoff match at the Manjeri Payyanad Stadium in the Malappuram district on Tuesday, April 4, 2023.
For captain and full-back Rahul Bheke, playing in the Champions League is all about improving Indian Football’s standing on the continental level.
“It’s very important for any club to be able to represent India at that level. We have already done that once, and we are so happy that we will be able to do it again next season,” Bheke said to the-aiff.com. “It is the top level of football in Asia, and we want to prove our mettle there.”
Mumbai City played in the AFC Champions League last year and finished second in their group behind Al-Shabab of Saudi Arabia. Bheke made history by scoring the winning goal in the Islanders' 2-1 victory over Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya of Iraq.
“That was the first time we played at that level, and I think everyone was surprised by our performance. We thought it would be very difficult, but once we got used to the level, we felt that we could also match those clubs,” said Bheke. “Physically, of course, they are at a better place, and the intensity was high, but we were able to show that hard work can take you places.”
Rahul Bheke, last month, was part of the Indian National Team, which won the Hero Tri-Nation International Football Tournament, in Imphal, defeating Myanmar (1-0) and Kyrgyz Republic (2-0) at the Khuman Lampak Stadium. The full-back believes that India are now at a level where they can be competitive in Asia.
“Even with the National Team, we are always there, competing with the best teams in Asia. One can never say that the boys are lagging behind in terms of pace or intensity, so I think that’s always a great sign,” he said.
Up next in his target is the Hero Super Cup, the campaign for which begins on April 11 for Mumbai City, who are placed in Group D alongside Chennaiyin FC, NorthEast United FC, and the winners of the Qualifier between Real Kashmir FC and Churchill Brothers FC Goa.
“The Super Cup is one of our targets this season. Of course, the first target was securing Champions League qualification, which we have done. Now it’s important for us to go back, recover well and prepare for the cup,” said Bheke.