FC Goa are a few days away from representing India in the biggest continental event, the AFC Champions League, becoming the first Indian to achieve the feat. While they are set to face fierce opponents in Group E, the prospect of playing the matches in their home stadium will give them a boost.
The squad which actually bagged honours for the top-tier Asian tournament last season might have been a more versatile one in terms of quality, yet we have to give due to the current bunch. Juan Ferrando, not on par in tactical acumen with his predecessor, has devised ways to go about business successfully with the resources at his disposal. The top-four finish with the ‘Gaurs’ in his first season as the head coach is a result of the good work he’s put in throughout the season.
But FC Goa are set to venture into alien territory right now, with no brewed formula set down for instant success. There’s every possibility that the momentum gained from the Indian Super League might be pinned down to dust from the onset of the 2021 AFC Champions League, such is the seriousness of the situation. Juan Ferrando, as we have known, specialises in making the most out of the situation, a trait that helps FC Goa fans and management to overcome otherwise sleepless nights.
As far as the squad is concerned, a full-fledged one is expected to available, but there’s a catch. Unlike ISL, only four foreigners would be allowed on the pitch at a particular time. That has seen them overlook two of their stalwarts from the previous season – Igor Angulo and Alberto Noguera - from the contingent. Although, playing the group stage matches at their home ground, in Goa, has somewhat compensated for the overseas rule, maybe something more than that.
The skipper, the most capped player in the current setup, and few of the players that have actually stayed back at the club from the last season, unlike most that have flocked to greener pastures. Coupled with the fact that he’s been the main architect in the midfield for the ‘Gaurs’ in the past four seasons, it just proves why there was no option for Juan Ferrando other than to shortlist him for the continental event when the manager was in a fix over selection. With teams like Al-Rayyan and Persepolis pitted alongside them in Group E, an experienced player with an ability to hold the ball in the midfield is the need of the hour, and his record of 1496 passes (most be any player) in the 2020-21 ISL, averaging almost 75 per game at an accuracy almost 80%, goes in tandem with the criteria.
In a team obsessed with possession-based football and infused in attacking mindset, there’s less scope of a defender hogging the limelight, but Ivan Gonzelez has had his moments of fame. The Spaniard’s service at the centre-back position is hard to ignore for the naked eye, with his statistics in the 2020-21 Indian Super League confirming the same. With 56 tackles, 73 clearances, and 28 blocks, there no doubt he’s the shield FC Goa needs to resist the wrath of the heavyweights they are set to face in the AFC Champions League. With two goals and an assist to go with the mix in the domestic league, he adds an X-factor to the team which would come handy.
FC Goa’s 28-man squad for the 2021 AFC Champions League
Goalkeepers: Mohammad Nawaz, Naveen Kumar, Shubham Dhas, Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem
Defenders: Sanson Pereira, Seriton Fernandes, Leander D’Cunha, Iván González (Spain), Mohamed Ali, James Donachie (Australia), Aibanbha Dohling, Saviour Gama, Adil Khan
Midfielders: Edu Bedia (Spain), Glan Martins, Princeton Rebello, Brandon Fernandes, Phrangki Buam, Redeem Tlang, Makan Winkle Chothe, Alexander Romario Jesuraj, Amarjit Singh Kiyam, Romeo Fernandes
Forwards: Jorge Ortiz (Spain), Devendra Murgaonkar, Ishan Pandita
FC Goa have been drawn with Iran’s Persepolis and Qatari side Al-Rayyan, along with the winners of the play-off match between Al-Wahda (Syria) and Al-Zawraa (Iraq).
Al-Rayyan have been consistently finishing in the top-four of the Qatar Stars League in the past few seasons, but they were battered in the 2020 AFC Champions League by Iran’s Esteghlal FC in the play-offs. But that doesn’t take away the fact that they’re no pushovers, with their display showing improvement in the previous season. And the gap between them and FC Goa is quite vast. With Argentina International Gabriel Mercado and former FC Porto star Yacine Brahimi in their ranks, the results are leading one way, unless something extraordinary pops up.
Persepolis FC (Iran)
The most successful club in the Persian Gulf Pro League, Persepolis came tantalisingly close to clinching their maiden AFC Champions League title last season, having lost to Ulsan Hyundai FC in the title clash. But two runners-up finish and a semi-final appearance in the past four seasons of the top-tier competition proves why they are enjoying their best phase in Asian football so far, coupled with the fact that they’ve claimed their domestic league for the past four seasons. With an arsenal of local talents at their disposal and an urge to decorate their trophy cabinet with the continent’s top honour, there won’t be complacency from their end.
April 14 | FC Goa vs Al-Rayyan | Time: 10:30 pm
April 17 | Winner of Al-Wahda vs Al-Zawraa vs FC Goa | Time: 8:00 pm
April 20 | Persepolis vs FC Goa | Time: 10:30 pm
April 23 | FC Goa vs Persepolis | Time: 10:30 pm
April 26 | Al-Rayyan vs FC Goa | Time: 10:30 pm
April 29 | FC Goa vs Winner of Al-Wahda vs Al-Zawraa | Time: 10:30 pm
All the matches will be played at the Fatorda Stadium in Goa.
All the matches will be telecasted on the TV channel Star Sports 3 and streamed online on Hotstar.