Mumbai City Drawn With Neymar’s Al Hilal In Afc Champions League | Mumbai News – Times of India

Mumbai: Barely had Mumbai City’s name been placed in Group D along with Saudi Pro League giants Al Hilal during Thursday’s AFC Champions League group stage draw, excited Indian football followers on social media were already drooling over one juicy thought — ‘Brazilian superstar Neymar could soon be coming to India!’. The two other teams Mumbai City must battle are Nassaji Mazandaran (Iran) and Navbahor (Uzbekistan). But undoubtedly, because of Al Hilal’s star-studded squad, illuminated by last week’s €90 million euros ($98m) signing of Neymar, because of their pedigree as record four-time Champions League winners, they seemed to be the only name that resonated widely among Indian football’s burgeoning fan following over the course of Thursday’s draw ceremony in Kuala Lumpur. Ever since Mumbai City won a direct spot in the Champions League group stage by winning the ISL Winners’ Shield last season, there had been plenty of excited chatter about the possibility of the Islanders being drawn alongside Portuguese great Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al Nassr. However, once Des Buckingham’s side were placed in Group D which already had Al Hilal, the competition’s rule preventing two teams from the same league from being drawn in the same group ruled out that opportunity. Not that the Englishman was complaining when he addressed reporters later. “We’ll have to introduce him to the Mumbai favourite — vada pav. We’ll have to introduce him to some of the local favourite foods here and see how he enjoys that,” Buckingham said in jest, when asked if he was already thinking of a plan to counter Neymar’s genius on the pitch. “For us, it’s an opportunity to play against not just Asia’s best but some of the world’s best players. I know Neymar is obviously the latest (signing of Al Hilal) and the stand-out player in there, but you still have people like Ruben Neves, Malcom, (Aleksandar) Mitrovic and there’s many more that have come in. It’s an exciting thing to play against those types of players — maybe a once in a lifetime opportunity, or I guess twice now in the group stage for us and our club.” Asked if the players had any preference among Al Hilal, Al Nassr or Al Ittihad who boast French star Karim Benzema, captain Rahul Bheke revealed there were a few Ronaldo fans within the Mumbai City ranks who were hoping to get Al Nassr. “The players were excited. Some were big Ronaldo fans so they wanted Al Nassr. We all were excited about getting one of the teams, and we got Al Hilal, so we are super excited for that.” While the group stage fixtures are still to be announced, Mumbai City have opted to play their home matches in the competition at Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex in Pune instead of their ISL home base, the Mumbai Football Arena, which doesn’t meet the Asian Football Confederation’s criteria for hosting Champions League games. “We would have loved to have played at the Mumbai Football Arena because of how special that is to us, but it’s not possible with the regulations that are placed upon the Champions League. The club have made what they feel is the next best decision to make sure it stays within the region and that’s why its gone to Pune” Buckingham said.