The Islanders will be up against tall odds in the continental extravaganza.

Indian Super League outfit Mumbai City are going to participate in the upcoming AFC Champions League. The 2020-21 ISL League Winners’ Shield and trophy winners will play Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya on Matchday 2, also known as the Air Force Sports Club of Iraq. The competition in Group B will be intense with Al-Shabab of Saudi Arabia and Al-Jazira of the UAE as the other teams.

Des Buckingham’s men will be looking to right the wrongs from a disappointing ISL 2021-22 season, where they failed to make it into the playoffs. The outfit saw their title defence fall like a pack of cards due to several issues in the team. These weaknesses will need to be addressed, as the Islanders will come up against Asian giants in the continental tournament.

As Mumbai City become the second Indian club to play in the AFC Champions League after FC Goa, here is what they can expect from one of their three opponents, Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya:

Recent Performances

Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya
Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya won the Iraqi Premier League 2020-21 season (Courtesy: @ina.iq)

Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya are currently playing in the Iraqi Premier League, where they sit in third place with 48 points from 25 matches. The outfit are undefeated in its last eight fixtures in the top tier league in Iraq, securing three wins over Samarra SC, Newroz SC and Al Mina’a. The last outing for the team was against Al Mina’a, where they recorded a 2-1 win.

Winning the league last year and also securing the domestic cup, saw the club take their place in the AFC Champions League. As for MCFC, the contest against the Iraqi club could be the toughest out of the three.

About The Team

Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya are also popularly known as the Air Force Sports Club of Iraq. The multi-sports club are the oldest club in the country, having been founded in 1931. Interestingly, the club are the defending champion of the Iraqi Premier League, having won it seven times in total. To top that, the club also has five Iraqi Cup and two Iraqi Super Cup wins in the locker.

However, the most impressive feat by the club has come on the continental level. Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya are three-time winners of the AFC Cup. They won the 2016, 2017 and 2018 editions of the tournament, establishing themselves as a dominant force on the Asian football circuit. In the process, the outfit also became the first-ever to achieve three consecutive AFC Cup wins.

The Coach

Hakeem Shaker
Shaker took over at the Air Force Club of Iraq in January this year (Courtesy: AFC Media)

Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya will be led by Hakeem Shaker who got the reins of the team earlier in January 2022. At the club level, he has previously led teams like Al-Suwaiq, Al-Zawraa SC and Al-Shorta SC. The 59-year-old has majorly worked with the development sides of the Iraq national football team, oscillating between U-19, U=20 and U-23 sides. He was also the manager of the Iraq senior national team for a brief period. 

Shaker guided Al-Suwaiq SC to the Omani league title in the 2017-18 season. He also won the Iraqi Cup with Al-Zawraa SC in 2018-19. 

Players To Watch

Hammadi Ahmad

Hammadi Ahmad
Ahmad has scored 12 goals already this season (Courtest: AFC Media)

Hammadi Ahmad is the main source of goals for the outfit and leads the line with experience. The 33-year-old plays as a target man and uses his reading of the game to get in dangerous scoring positions. He is a good finisher and can hurt any opposition if left unchecked.

Over the course of his career, the striker has collected 40 international caps for Iraq, scoring six goals in the process. The skipper will aim to lead Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya by example when the side takes to the field in the ACL. 

Wilson Akakpo

Wilson Akakpo is the leader in defence who will aim to keep the opposition attackers at bay. He is the leader at the back and is exceptional at organizing the backline. The 29-year-old has two caps for the Togo national team.

A centre-back by trade, Akakpo can be a threat from set-pieces as well. He has previously played for teams like El-Ittihad and Al-Najaf FC in Iraq. His partnership alongside the likes of Ahmed Ibrahim Khalaf can be tough to break down.

Ibrahim Bayesh

Ibrahim Bayesh
Bayesh will be a threat for Mumbai City from midfield (Courtesy: AFC Media)

Mumbai City will need to be cautious of the threat from Ibrahim Bayesh as well. Putting all of the focus on Hammadi Ahmad could lead to trouble for any opposition, as it leaves the dangerous attacker in Bayesh with room to operate. He usually takes the right wing position, but can also shift into a central role.

The 21-year-old is full of energy and also has an abundance of creativity. At such a young age, he has already stacked up 25 international caps while representing Iraq and managed three goals too. 

What To Expect

Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya will be the heavy favourites when they face Mumbai City. The Islanders will need to pull an outstanding performance in order to give the Iraqi club a strong challenge. The outfit are strong in all departments, particularly in attack. On-paper, the Iraqi club have a lot more experience of playing at the continental level, while this will be the first occasion for MCFC.

This could be the defining feature when the two teams clash on 11 April 2022. Having said that, MCFC could cause an upset if they play to their strengths and do not make individual errors. Letting the Air Force Sports Club of Iraq enjoy a lot of possession could hurt them eventually as well. 

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